Updated 3/8/23. Creatine safety in kids is a question I often get asked by parents of children who want to take this supplement to improve their sports performance. If you're a parent and have not heard of creatine, it's a compound that has been shown to improve certain types of exercise such as weight lifting and sprinting. While we make small amounts, it's also widely available as a supplement. In this review, I'll discuss the research and safety of creatine in kids younger than 18 years of age.
Additional Creatine References (Videos)
- Can Creatine Improve Memory
- Do You Need To Cycle Creatine?
- Creatine & Rhabdomyolysis: Fact or Fiction?
What Is Creatine?
Creatine (also known as creatine monohydrate) is a natural compound in our bodies. It is also found in meat, fish, and poultry. We usually make about 1-2 grams naturally every day and get about 1-2 grams daily from the food we eat.
Creatine is also one of the most popular nutritional supplements in the world. In supplements, it's often called creatine monohydrate.
How Does Creatine Work?
In the body, creatine gets converted to a substance called phospho-creatine. In the muscles, phospho-creatine can quickly re-energize our ultimate energy molecule, called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The ATP molecule, in turn, provides the energy we need to do everything – workout out, walking the dog, thinking, chewing food, keeping our hearts beating, etc.
The creatine energy system boosts ATP production very fast. The fast production of energy increases muscle power. This is why powerlifters, who lift very heavy weights, probably supplement with creatine.
Hundreds of well-done scientific studies conducted over the last 40 or more years have found creatine supplements can help people become more powerful when combined with a strength training program. As such, these supplements are very popular with people who work out.
How Much Creatine Do People Take?
When it comes to taking supplements, people often break the amounts into 2 different dosing protocols:
- The loading phase (20-25 grams per day)
- The maintenance phase (3-5 grams per day)
So do you need to do the loading phase? The loading phase is the first week of taking the supplement. The idea is to load up on creatine before tapering off to a lesser amount (maintenance phase). I don't believe the loading phase is needed -and some research shows the loading phase is not necessary too.
Over 20 years ago, a research study concluded that taking just 3 days a day for a week loads the muscles up with as much creatine as if people took 20 grams for one week. This means you could achieve the same results by just taking a lesser dosage.
Creatine And Kids: Research
While there are hundreds of studies on creatine supplementation, I was curious if anyone gave it to kids to see what happened. So, I searched the National Library of Medicine (Pubmed.gov) for the following search terms
- Creatine supplementation kids
and located this study where the supplement – or placebo was given to 12 kids, ages 15-20 each, for 12 weeks. The dosage used was 0.11 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. How much is that? well, if a child weighs 100 pounds, this would be 6.8 grams. It sounds like they were using the maintenance phase dosage.
Interestingly, even though no side effects were seen (that's good), the supplement did not raise muscle creatine levels or make the kids stronger. One drawback to this study was the kids all had lupus. This may have impacted the results of the investigation.
There are not many research studies that have looked at supplementation in kids. What little is known suggests the side effects might be minimal but whether it makes kids stronger needs more study.
So why so little kid-specific research? Remember, research is often conducted on adults who are of legal age. Because kids are not miniature adults, few want to take on the ethical responsibilities of giving a supplement to someone who might not fully understand what they are doing.
Does Creatine Cause Side Effects?
Most studies don't show any harmful side effects when adults take creatine. On the internet, you hear stories about how creatine may cause hair loss and balding, which I discuss below. One well-known ” side effect ” is the potential for weight gain. The weight gain is due to water retention, not creatine supplements building muscle tissue.
The increase in body mass seen is usually between two and five pounds, although I remember one high-school hockey player telling me he gained 20 pounds with creatine supplements. I do think that's out of the ordinary. When it comes to creatine and water retention, keep in mind it may or may not occur. That is because not all researchers have reported it occurring.
Some may wonder if creatine causes the same bad side effects as anabolic steroids like testosterone. The answer to that question is no, and one of the reasons for this is that creatine is not an anabolic steroid.
Does Creatine Harm The Kidneys?
Another area that some worry about is the possibility that creatine may harm the kidneys. This appears to be a myth. I'm unaware of any clinical study documenting that creatine supplements cause harm to the kidneys or cause kidney failure. In fact, some studies have looked into this possibility and found there are no kidney problems with creatine. However, one warning about this is in those who have kidney problems. I would not suggest taking creatine if your kidneys are not functioning properly or if you have only one kidney. This is out of an abundance of caution, and I'm not aware of any research where creatine supplements were given to men or women with kidney health issues.
Can Creatine Cause Injuries?
Studies in adults have not shown injuries from supplementation. While this may be true, I can tell you I have received emails from people who swore it has happened to them. When it comes to creatine and injuries, my best guess is that ligaments and tendons don't have a good blood supply as muscles do.
As such, ligaments and tendons take longer than muscles to get stronger. Something like creatine might allow someone to place more stress on tendons and ligaments than they should, leading to injury. If we consider kids and teenagers are still growing, this may be a recipe for trouble. Again, I am speculating here.
See the creatine and injuries review.
Does Creatine Cause Your Hair To Fall Out?
Hair loss is a very common question people ask when they consider using this supplement. It turns out there is a study driving this conversation. While some people maintain this happens, the short answer is there is no good proof for it. In this video, I reveal the proof.
Watch on my Youtube channel too.
Does Creatine Cause Rhabdomyolysis?
Rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo) is a serious but rare medical condition resulting from excessive exercise and other things. Kids and adults have ended up in the hospital on dialysis because of rhabdo. Signs and symptoms of rhabdo include extreme muscle pain, muscle swelling, inability to bed/extend limbs, kidney failure, and dark-colored urine. Not everyone experiences these classic symptoms, though, so those who feel they have rhabdo should be evaluated by a physician.
Creatine has been implicated as a possible cause of rhabdo in athletes. In this video, I discuss the evidence and my thoughts about the creatinine-rhabdo connection. For much more info, read my rhabdo book.
Can Creatine Help Marathon Runners?
Most research in the past has shown creatine supplements to be beneficial to power athletes such as sprinters, high jumpers, and powerlifters. But what about athletes who compete in endurance events, such as runners and triathletes? It's possible they may also benefit from creatine supplements.
When you take creatine, along with carbs (or protein), the combo boosts glycogen storage more than when you eat carbs alone. Glycogen is the carbohydrate you store in your muscles. Glycogen is very important for those who take part in exercise events that last a long time, like marathon runners.
Creatine & Boys vs. Girls?
Most of the research on this supplement involves college-aged men. While some research involves women, it's not as much as I'd like. While my hunch is women might react similarly to men, when it comes to young girls (say 14 years old for example), I don't know what it does. I have not seen any clinical studies of younger teenagers.
However, one interesting piece of trivia is that adult women store more creatine in their muscles than men. I'm not sure if this also holds true for young girls. So why might women have more creatine in their muscles than adult men? One speculation is that it's the body's way of compensating for having less muscle mass to begin with.
Do Kids Need To Cycle Creatine?
Cycling is the practice of taking something for a period of time and then halting its use. Cycling a drug or supplement is often cited as a way to reduce overdosing or prevent the substance from building up to toxic levels in the body. The concept of cycling is a reference to steroids, where athletes, wanting to avoid side effects, would periodically stop taking them for a period of time.
All that said, while I believe the answer is no – creatine doesn't need to be cycled, I don't think someone has to keep taking it, either. I say this because they don't need this supplement unless someone is lifting heavy.
See the post Do You Need To Cycle Creatine.
What's The Best Type of Creatine?
Creatine has been on the US market since at least the 1990s. In that time, several other forms of creatine have come on the market to compete for consumers' attention. These include
- Creatine nitrate
- Creatine HCL
- Buffered creatine
- Liquid creatine
Are these forms better? Many of these other forms of creatine lack proof that they really are better – although they may cost more.
This is important because creatine monohydrate is relatively inexpensive.
One version which does have some research is called creatine nitrate. It's supposed to combine the effects of creatine with an ingredient that expands blood vessels. I have a review of this and my thoughts on it:
So, Do Kids Need To Take Creatine?
Based on the evidence to date, I don't see much reason for kids or teenagers to take creatine supplements. While the research so far finds it might not make kids stronger, I think kids -and their parents – need to remember kids already have the one thing no supplement in the world can give them: youth. Kids and teenagers are still growing. their metabolic rates are much faster than adults. There is no supplement that can give kids the advantages of youth. Hence, I don't think they need to take this supplement.