This was a question one of my clients asked me a few months ago, and to be honest, I really didn't know how to answer it at the time.
Of course, protein is an essential macronutrient that all humans need, but does that make your protein supplement a suitable option for your kids?
Because I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to diet and nutrition, I went on a mission to find out whether there are situations where a protein supplement may and may not be a good option for kids.
And I found a few surprising facts.
Why Is Protein Important For Kids?
Protein is important for kids because it plays a key role in the development of many different body functions and systems. Practically every new cell that is created during various growth stages requires protein.
More on the recommended amounts shortly.
Once absorbed, protein is broken down into amino acids, which are vital ingredients in DNA replication, hormone development, muscle tissue, bone density, and healthy organs, including the brain.
While a lack of protein in kids' diets is rare these days, you can see how it could be a serious issue.
Daily Protein Needs For Different Ages
Having an adequate protein intake from new-born babies right into teenage years and adulthood is something that parents have to pay close attention to.
The following table shows you the recommended amounts of protein, based on the US Government dietary guidelines .
Child age 1-3
Female age 4-8
Male age 4-8
Female age 9-13
Male age 9-13
Female age 14-18
Male age 14-18
For the most part, children will be able to achieve these goals from the foods they eat, especially from dairy products like cheese and milk, as well as meat and some plant-based protein.
But there are some situations where children could become deficient.
Is Protein Powder Safe For Your Kids?
Yes, protein powder is safe for kids as long as nutrition guidelines are not exceeded.
However, it is possible that your child may have dietary allergies and intolerances that may make milk-based protein powder products unsuitable.
If you are considering supplementing your child's diet because maybe they aren't eating enough protein-rich foods, then it's always best to start with very small doses. This will allow you to monitor any reactions and negative health effects.
How Can Kids Increase Protein In Their Diet?
Kids can increase protein in their diet by opting for snacks and meals that include more dairy products, healthy nuts, less processed whole grains, lean cuts of meat, and even some different types of beans.
The richer the nutrients in the ingredients, the more likely you are to get some extra protein into food. This can even happen without children noticing, as some sources are so high in protein that it may only take small amounts.
For example, just one slice of cheddar cheese contains 7g of protein or about a third of the recommended amount per day for a 6-year-old child .
"Remember to stick with healthy choices as you look for protein-rich foods. The foods should be low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars." - Vincent Ianelli, Pediatrician.
When Should You Consider Using Protein Powders For Children?
You should consider using protein powders for children if there is a significant reason to believe that there may be a risk of protein deficiency. This can mainly happen due to the following reasons.
1 - Picky Eaters
This is the most common situation that parents may face where children are very picky about the food they eat. This can make it very difficult to get extra protein through foods alone.
2 - Vegan or Vegetarian
Animal products like milk and meat are naturally rich in protein, and children will easily get their protein needs sourced from them on a day-to-day basis. Vegan or vegetarian kids will need some more careful attention to what plants they eat to avoid malnutrition.
3 - Underweight
While not enough calories from foods is the main cause of being underweight, some children may simply not be developing fast enough because they aren't getting enough protein. However, this should be confirmed with a pediatrician.
If this is an option you want to explore check out our list of the best protein powders for kids.
When Should You Not Consider Taking Protein Powders?
You should not consider using protein powders if your child has any known underlying health conditions.
While the right levels of nutrients are important for various stages of development, many supplement products may pose some risks if there are any known illnesses.
It's also not recommended to supplement with protein products if this were to result in the total calories per day increasing above the amount recommended for a child's developmental stage .
What Age Can A Child Have Protein Shakes?
There is no specific recommended age when a child can have protein shakes, but based on daily intake needs, you may want to avoid supplements before the age of 8.
The reason for this is that the relatively limited amount of protein needed per day can be easily achieved through food. From age 8 onwards, the need for protein and other nutrients goes up quite a bit, which is where some supplements may become a suitable option.
Is protein powder safe for teenagers?
Yes, protein powder is safe for teenagers as long as they don't significantly exceed their intake needs. Ideally, this should be calculated with the help of a nutritionist and support the levels of activity as well.
Why does protein powder hurt my stomach?
The main reason that protein powder may hurt your stomach is due to lactose intolerance. Most protein products are made from dairy ingredients, and a lot of people are not able to properly digest these resulting in cramps and nausea. A simple solution is to switch to plant-based protein powder.
Should You Give Your Kids Some Protein Powder?
If you have carefully calculated your child's macronutrient intake and there is a reason to believe that they are not getting enough protein from the food they eat, then it may be a good choice to make.
Start with a minimal amount to ensure that they can tolerate it, and then gradually build it up so that the extra protein will fill the nutritional gap.
However, if there are any other significant health concerns, then a conversation with your doctor before making the final decision is probably best.