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Creatine Supplementation for Teenagers

By dietitian Clare Wood

Oh boys and their gym-going body-building stage! If you are a teenager wanting to bulk up, or a parent of a teenager who wants to, you may have heard of creatine and are interested in giving it a try.

If the aim is to increase muscle, there are many components to gaining muscle mass, and supplementation is just one of them (and not the main one!). First and foremost, you need a good training program, followed closely by the right nutrition, adequate energy and protein intake, time for recovery and growth, and something that you have no control over - genetics.

As far as supplementation goes, creatine is a proven supplement. Creatine is a biochemical compound found naturally occurring in our bodies, and also in some of the food we eat. Supplementing with creatine provides an increase in the level of creatine available in the muscle, which then provides more fuel for the muscle in the first brief moments of exercise.

Creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements out there, with some good evidence behind it for being effective for weight gain as well as improving high-intensity short duration activity, like lifting heavy weights and short sprints.

There is limited research on adolescents, but what has been done has positive outcomes with minimal side effects. It does need to be taken in a routine schedule of doses to be effective (this should be explained on the label of the product).

Pure creatine comes in a tin (photo credit: Chrisso)Pure creatine comes in a tin (photo credit: Chrisso)

As far as the best age to start using it, I would suggest 18 plus, at least. This will depend on individual growth patterns though. Boys usually continue growing until 18-20 years, some stop at the beginning of this range, and some at the end.

Creatine, and other supplements, are going to be more effective when the rapid teenage growth period has ceased and growth hormones are settled to adult levels, and they are not getting the benefit from hormones anymore. A teenager will still be getting great benefit in the gym from the naturally occurring growth hormones that are circulating. Moving on to taking supplements is recommended once growth has stopped, but it is not always clear when this occurs.

On saying that, the best benefit in the gym will come from getting all the right nutrition to start. The teenager will get more benefit from correct nutrition (10-20%) than he will from creatine (2-5%). Obviously, both together will be optimum.

Good nutrition for gym workouts will come from quality protein spread throughout the day at meals and snacks (nuts, dairy, meats, eggs, legumes etc. - meat contains natural creatine), eating around training times (before and immediately after), and getting enough total energy and carbohydrates Plus no skipped meals!

So to summarize, a good nutrition plan should be the first step to muscle weight gain. Once you feel this box is ticked (and be aware that most teenagers will think they are getting the best nutrition when they are actually not), and if you think growth has finished, it is not a bad option to give creatine a try. And it is safe to do so.

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