Ask the experts
Both of my sons lift weights and take creatine. Is it safe to take creatine supplements?
Creatine is a compound that has been shown to speed up recovery in adults after short (generally 10 seconds or less), high intensity bouts of exercise like a set of weight lifting. There are no endurance performance benefits from creatine use. Strength gains and increases in mass associated with creatine use occur because it enables athletes to do more work with less fatigue in a specific period of time due to the improvement in recovery time. There are no steroid-like effects with creatine that directly cause increases in protein synthesis, increases in testosterone availability or synthesis, or other anabolic processes, and only minor side effects seem to be reported (gastrointestinal discomfort and cramping being the two main complaints). Individuals using creatine should drink six to eight glasses of water a day while taking creatine to prevent dehydration. Among individuals who take creatine, many do not see any benefit. If no benefit is observed after four to six weeks of use, then it would be prudent to stop taking it, if for no other reason than to save money.
If your sons are teenagers then you should know that the safety and efficacy of creatine has not been established in adolescents. Yet despite the lack of research in teens, a 2001 study in the journal Pediatrics reported that creatine is used by young athletes in every grade from six to 12 (44% of 12th graders reported using creatine). The authors of this study specifically state that, "Until the safety of creatine can be established in adolescents, the use of this product should be discouraged." Additionally, the American College of Sports Medicine has recommended that creatine not be used by anyone younger than 18 years old, and furthermore, collegiate trainers and coaches are forbidden from recommending or supplying creatine, or other supplements for that matter, to their student athletes.
It is my opinion that young athletes should be taught the moral high ground. That is, stay disciplined, train hard, get plenty of sleep, learn how to eat healthy, and avoid supplements. The win-at-any-cost message that diffuses down from professional athletes corrupts our children and presents potentially dangerous health consequences. It's a message I believe that we can live without.
Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine
"Permitted non-hormonal performance-enhancing substances"