Creatine is a nutritional supplement that is purported to be a safe ergogenic aid in adults. Although as many as 28% of collegiate athletes admit taking creatine, there is little information about creatine use or potential health risk in children and adolescents. Although the use of creatine is not recommended in people less than 18 years of age, numerous anecdotal reports indicate widespread use in young athletes. The purpose of this study was to determine the frequency, risk factors, and demographics of creatine use among middle and high school student athletes.
Before their annual sports preparticipation physical examinations, middle and high school athletes aged 10 to 18 in Westchester County, a suburb north of New York City, were surveyed in a confidential manner. Information was collected regarding school grade, gender, specific sport participation, and creatine use.
Overall, 62 of 1103 participants (5.6%) admitted taking creatine. Creatine use was reported in every grade, from 6 to 12. Forty-four percent of grade 12 athletes surveyed reported using creatine. Creatine use was significantly more common (P < .001) among boys (53/604, 8.8%) than girls (9/492, 1.8%). Although creatine was taken by participants in every sport, use was significantly more common among football players, wrestlers, hockey players, gymnasts, and lacrosse players (P < .001 for all). The most common reasons cited for taking creatine were enhanced performance (74.2% of users) and improved appearance (61.3%), and the most common reason cited for not taking creatine was safety (45.7% of nonusers).
Despite current recommendations against use in adolescents less than 18 years old, creatine is being used by middle and high school athletes at all grade levels. The prevalence in grades 11 and 12 approaches levels reported among collegiate athletes. Until the safety of creatine can be established in adolescents, the use of this product should be discouraged.