Want to bulk up fast? Want to excel as a competitive athlete? Promoters of the supplement creatine promise a significant increase in muscle mass and overall athletic performance within two weeks. Weight lifters claim to gain up to 30 pounds of muscle mass in less than 60 days. Sounds too good to pass up?
Since 1998, Americans have spent roughly $14 million each year on creatine supplements, according to Medline Plus, a service of the National Institutes of Health. Medline also reports that an estimated 50% of professional football players take creatine, so it is not very surprising to learn that the supplement’s popularity has filtered down to teen athletes.
Jay Smith, a sports medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic, surveyed 300 high school students for a study published in 2000, and found that 8% regularly use creatine supplements.
Creatine is found naturally in many high protein foods, such as red meat, chicken and fish. But when diet alone doesn’t provide the body with an a dequate amount, the compound is produced by the liver, kidneys and pancreas. WebMd explains that creatine is then stored in the muscles and used for energy.
Medline Plus reports that creatine can cause muscle cramps, tears and sprains in athletes. Creatine can also make athletes less tolerant of heat and more prone to heat exhaustion. Other side effects listed on Medline Plus include stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, thirst, headaches, depression, abnormal heart rhythm and blood clots. More serious conditions can stem from taking more than the recommended dose of 2–5 grams per day, which can lead to kidney damage.
Since creatine use has become popular only within the last decade, the long-term effects are not known. The University of Maryland Medical Center’s online Medical Reference website points out that one fear from continued supplement use of creatine is that the human body will discontinue producing it over a long period of time.
Creatine is sold as a 100% natural product. However, because creatine is a supplement, it is not strictly monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and there have been reports of impurities found in these products. Mark Jenkins, Director of Student Health Services at Rice University in Houston, TX, reports that one ingredient commonly found in several forms of creatine supplements is caffeine. Jenkins also notes in his online review that when taken together caffeine negates the effectiveness of creatine. Furthermore, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that taking creatine and caffeine together may increase an athlete’s risk of dehydration.
Unfortunately, teens “frequently exceed” the recommended dosage, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Many manufacturers of creatine market their enhancement supplements directly to the high school and college athletes via web sales, health food and nutritional stores. BodyBuilding.com lists creatine as a supplement of choice for 16-19 year-olds who “want to get big and strong for sports”. Medline Plus reports that “neither safety nor effectiveness in those under 19 has ever been tested”.
Elliott Greene, a sophomore soccer player at Pattonville High School, took creatine for 4 months and quit after “not seeing any results.”
Current studies differ on whether or not muscle mass and endurance are actually improved by taking creatine supplements, but experts warn that there are risks.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License