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.

While protein is important, there are very few circumstances in which kids need these supplements and drinks. However, if you are concerned about your child's protein intake or other nutritional needs, talk with your pediatrician.

Risks of Protein Shakes for Kids

Protein powder is unnecessary for children. Foods with protein are a good idea, and so is physical activity that helps strengthen and build muscles. But extra protein in powder and supplements is rarely needed and can even be harmful.

  • Supplements show no benefit for strength. Strength training offers better outcomes than performance-enhancing supplements.
  • Food offers sufficient protein. The typical American diet already has two or three times the amount of protein we need. So the average child, even an athletic child, already gets plenty of protein in their diet and does not need extra protein.
  • Extra protein can lead to weight gain. Extra protein may be stored as fat and may not lead to extra muscle mass.
  • High protein intake can have health consequences. For some people, high levels of protein intake may lead to dehydration, kidney damage, and increased excretion of calcium, which puts some children at risk for kidney stones.

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

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

According to studies, the percentage of young American athletes who use sports supplements could be as low as 21% or as high as 71%. 

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

Are Sports Drinks Ever OK?

The AAP recommends that active children stay well hydrated by drinking plain water (best), flavored water, or an appropriate sports drink. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering sports drinks for kids:

  • Be selective: Sports drinks (like Gatorade) are really only necessary if a child exercises very intensely and sweats 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.
  • Be mindful of bedtime: If that post-exercise meal will mean extra calories before bed, though, kids should eat an early dinner an hour or more before a workout, practice, or game. Then let them have a small, healthy snack afterward.
  • Stick to healthy carbs: 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 whole-wheat bagels or crackers) and whole fruits instead of juice.
  • Opt for lower-calorie protein: Milk, ice cream, and protein powder are likely to provide a high-fat, high-protein snack with too many calories. Instead, a glass of low-fat milk or yogurt and/or fresh fruit or a fruit smoothie might be a better choice. Low-fat milk and yogurt are good protein-rich foods too.

Avoid 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."

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Labotz M, Griesemer B. Use of performance-enhancing substances. Pediatrics. 2016;138(1):e20161300-e20161300. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1300

  2. Jovanov P, Đorđić V, Obradović B, et al. Prevalence, knowledge and attitudes towards using sports supplements among young athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2019;16(1):27. doi:10.1186/s12970-019-0294-7

  3. Smith JW, Holmes ME, McAllister MJ. Nutritional considerations for performance in young athletes. J Sports Med. 2017;2017:6904048. doi:10.1155/2015/734649

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are they appropriate?. Pediatrics. 2011;127(6):1182-9. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0965

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.