Creatine: To Use or Not to Use

imagesI recently spoke to one of the teams I coach about supplements and there was A LOT of interest in the use of Creatine. Below is a summary of the key points of my talk.

  • What are Ergogenic Drugs

Ergogenic Drugs are substances used only to enhance athletic performance. Most commonly used in teens are Steroids, DHEA, Growth Hormone and Creatine. For more on these, read my previous BLOGS HERE and HERE

  • Why do young athletes feel the need to use Ergogenic Drugs?
    • Frustration- sometimes young athletes reach a plateau during training and they look for that “edge”
    • Curiosity- they hear and read testimonials online about amazing results from using creatine and other supplements
    • Peer pressure- from teammates, coaches and yes, even from parents to be the best, to get that scholarship…
  • What about Creatine? It’s legal? Should a young athlete use it? 
    • Let’s start with What is Creatine? Creatine is a naturally produced amino acid, which is a building block for protein, made mostly by the liver, but also found in some foods. Creatine is converted into energy in the body.
    • The Athletic Effect of creatine is increasing muscle size and strength and overall performance enhancement. It has also been shown in some studies to help with post-workout muscle soreness. Creatine is legal although NCAA teams are not allowed to distribute it to their athletes.
  • Creatine in Food
    • Found mainly in lean red meat, pork, and fish, including tuna, herring and salmon
    • 1 pound of meat or fish contains approximately 2-2.5 grams of creatine
    • Issue- athletes have to eat A LOT of meat or fish to consume enough creatine, and some of it is destroyed in the cooking process
  • Creatine in Sports
    • Athletes spend @ $14 million/year on creatine supplements
    • Creatine is sold as powders, tablets, capsules, energy bars, drink mixes and even fruit chews
    • Creatine is most popular with weight lifters, wrestlers, football players, hockey players and gymnasts
    • It has been found to be most effective for sports with high-intensity, short duration exercises
  •  Creatine Safety
    • Before using creatine, keep in mind there are minimal studies done in teens, and it is NOT FDA regulated!
    • Samples tested have been found to contain impurities, including arsenic, lead and mercury
    • The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine have explicitly recommended that creatine NOT be used by athletes younger than 19 years of age.
  • Creatine Side Effects & Drug Interactions
    • Side effects include dehydration, muscle cramps, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, high blood pressure and kidney failure
    • NSAIDs- like Motrin, Advil, ibuprofen. Taking creatine with these medications may increase the risk of kidney failure
    • Caffeine- caffeine prevents the absorption of creatine, and it increases the risk for dehydration
    • Other drugs- diuretics (“water pills”), cimetidine, probenicid…when used with creatine can cause significant health problems.
  • Creatine UseCreatine
    • While I do not encourage or condone the use of creatine, I am interested in making sure young athletes that use it do so safely! (I am also not supporting any one brand)
    • PROBLEM: dose ranges are too broad! Young athletes tend to take doses that are higher than those recommended.
    • Keep in mind all doses published are for adults ONLY. There are NO dosing recommendations for teens.
    • “Loading Dose” – I found ranges between 15-25 grams per day for 1week. Others suggest taking 5gms of creatine 4 times per day (20 grams total/day) for 2-5 days.
    • “Maintenance Dose”- suggested 2-5 grams per day.
    • Most adult athletes take creatine for 1-3 months, then go off for a month before resuming again.
    • Also keep in mind that studies have shown that up to 20%-30% of creatine users are actually “non-responders” and will see NO effect from creatine.

In summary, while tempting, the use of supplements in young athletes is discouraged and likely unnecessary. Focus your energy in training hard and eating right, and you’ll see results!

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