Protein Shakes and Supplements for Kids

Boy (10-12) in football uniform drinking from water bottle, close up
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It may seem like adding protein powder to shakes for your kids is a good idea, along with other powered-up beverages like sports drinks and energy drinks. But there are actually several problems with this approach. There are very few circumstances in which kids need these supplements and drinks. If you are concerned about your child's protein intake or other nutritional needs, talk with your pediatrician.

Protein Shakes and Supplements

Protein powder is unnecessary for children. While foods with protein are a good idea, extra protein in the form of powder and supplements is rarely needed and can even be harmful.

  • No benefit for strength: "Protein supplements have not been shown to enhance muscle development, strength, or endurance," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  • Food offers sufficient protein: The typical American diet already has two or three times the amount of protein we need. The average child, even an athletic child, already gets plenty of protein in their diet and does not need extra protein.
  • Can lead to weight gain: Extra protein may simply be stored as fat and may not lead to extra muscle mass.
  • Can have health consequences: High levels of protein intake may lead to dehydration, kidney damage, and increased excretion of calcium, which puts kids at risk for kidney stones.

Giving school-age kids protein powder may also encourage them to continue to use sports supplements later. About a third of teen athletes use some kind of sports supplement, such as:

  • Protein supplements
  • Creatine
  • Amino acids
  • Thermogenic/weight ;oss products
  • Beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl butyrate
  • Chromium

The AAP strongly discourages the use of performance-enhancing substances for athletic or other purposes.

Sports Drinks

The AAP recommends that active children stay well hydrated by drinking plain water (best), flavored water, or an appropriate sports drink. These sports drinks (like Gatorade) are really only necessary if a child is exercising very intensely and sweating profusely. Otherwise, they should hydrate with water. Active kids should fuel up by eating carbohydrates soon after intense exercise (within about 30 minutes), followed by more carbohydrates two hours later.

If this will mean extra calories before bed, though, it's better for kids to eat an early dinner an hour or more before a workout, practice, or game. Then let them have a small, healthy snack afterwards.

And know that a recommendation to eat carbs as a snack after exercise doesn't mean that your child should eat chips, candy, or other junk food. These high-carb foods are made up of simple sugars and should likely be avoided. Instead, stick with high-fiber complex carbs, such as whole grain starches (like bagels or crackers) and whole fruits instead of juice.

Milk, ice cream, and protein powder are likely to provide a high fat, high protein snack that has too many calories. A glass of low-fat milk or yogurt and/or fresh fruit or a fruit smoothie might be better choices. Low-fat milk and yogurt are good protein-rich foods too.

Energy Drinks

Not surprisingly, the AAP finds no role for energy drinks for kids, stating that "energy drinks pose potential health risks primarily because of stimulant content; therefore, they are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed."

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