Are there any side effects of taking creatine supplements to bulk up?

Q. My 17-year-old son works out in the gym three or four times a week and also runs long distances three times a week.

He takes whey protein whenever he goes to the gym to help build muscle mass.

His friend recently introduced him to creatine supplements, also to help build muscle mass, and he is interested in taking them.

Is it safe for him to take creatine supplements considering his age? Are there any side effects?

A. Creatine is a chemical that is found normally in the body, mostly in the muscles. It is involved in making the energy that muscles need to work.

It is made by the body and can also be obtained from taking certain kinds of food.

There is evidence that creatine supplementation may enhance the performance of exercise involving repeated sprints or bouts of high-intensity exercise, separated by short recovery periods.

Examples of such exercise include resistance training to increase body mass, interval and sprint training sessions, or sports with intermittent work patterns, such as football or basketball.

The Australian Institute of Sports recommends that creatine supplementation should be limited to experienced and well-developed athletes.

Children or adolescents should avoid using such supplements as their use has not been adequately studied in those under 18 years of age.

With age and regular training, your son can make good improvements in his performance.

He should focus on meeting his nutritional needs with food, instead of relying on supplements. For example, an extra glass of milk will provide 8g of protein, while creatine is found naturally in meat and fish.

Your son should aim for a balanced diet and include a variety of food in his diet.

Ensure that he is having adequate amounts from each of the four food groups - rice and other carbohydrate alternatives, meat and other protein alternatives, fruit and vegetables.

If he needs specific advice, he should speak to a sports dietitian.

A sports dietitian is one with additional training in sports nutrition, who can help to translate the latest scientific evidence into practical sports nutrition recommendations.

You may also contact the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association.


senior dietitian at the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre at Raffles Hospital

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