Creatine supplements: Will they increase speed and strength?

I am a 15-year-old male. I play football and I want to get stronger and faster. My cousin was telling me about something called creatine. He said it helped him work out longer without getting tired. He has been taking it for two weeks. I asked my mom if I could get some and she said no because she did not know what the side effects were. Can you tell me if it is safe to take this supplement?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound produced in our bodies. It is used to help release energy from muscle by aiding in the production and circulation of ATP, the fuel used for quick bursts of energy. It also helps to reduce energy waste products (lactic acid) which can reduce fatigue, allowing you to continue exercising longer at your peak.

Your body produces creatine, and for the average person, there is enough. However, studies have shown that some athletes do benefit from creatine supplements, either by taking a supplement of creatine monohydrate, or by eating more meat. Meat, fish and poultry contain excellent supplies of creatine.

According to the experts at Tuft's, it isn't the creatine that builds the muscle or makes you faster, it just allows the body to work harder to do so. It seems that even the ancient Greek athletes unknowingly took advantage of creatine supplementation by increasing meat in their diet prior to competition.

According to a report published in the monthly newsletter 'Environmental Nutrition,' studies show that taking 20 grams of creatine monohydrate for five days, followed by a maintenance dose of two to five grams per day can bulk up muscle and improve performance. However, it is important to note here that different sources recommend different rates of supplementation.

Muscles can store creatine, so more is not necessarily better because excess will be excreted in your urine. That can mean money down the toilet if your muscles are already loaded. It may be more economical to get your creatine from a diet that contains low fat meat and poultry as those foods supply other important nutrients that an athlete needs such a protein and iron.

Creatine supplements seem to benefit athletic endeavors of the short, intense variety so is more beneficial to sprinters, hockey players, wrestlers -- and yes, football players -- rather than long distance swimmers or marathon runners.

Creatine is not a drug so it seems unlikely that it will ever be banned. Creatine loading may end up being a lot like carbohydrate loading. However, the long term effects of creatine supplementation haven't been studied, so you take an uncalculated risk when you choose to use them. Any research that has been done on creatine supplementation has used elite athletic men or college- aged males in good physical condition. That means even less is known about supplementation's effects on growing teens or females. Also, the purity of different supplements can't be guaranteed, so safety may be an issue.

You may just want to include several meat/poultry/fish meals per week in order to be certain of the quality that you are receiving. Good luck in your athletic endeavors!

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