When we think of protein powder, we usually imagine adults taking it. But can kids have protein powder too?
The short answer is yes. Kids can have protein powder. But it depends on the type, quality, and quantity of the supplement.
Some options, like collagen protein, can be a benefit because they provide your child’s body with extra building blocks for strength, flexibility, and injury prevention. Others, especially if they contain additives, might cause harm.
Are protein powders supplying kids with the nutrient reserves they need during exercise, or are some powders best left alone until their bodies are fully grown?
When discussing if kids can have protein powder, there are two primary concerns to investigate:
- Can protein powders help children get their recommended amount of protein?
- Are there any additives in protein powders that make them unsuitable for children?
Today, we’ll look at the different types of protein powder young athletes are often interested in, and discuss what they’re made of and who they’re for. That will help us work out the best protein powder for kids.
What is protein?
We all know that protein is healthy, but very few of us know all the benefits of protein – because it performs a variety of functions for us! Here are some of the main functions of protein in the body:
- Building and repairing the tissue in muscles
- Building and repairing tissue in tendons and ligaments
- Building and repairing bones
- Creating hormones and enzymes
What we notice is that it’s a building block that is used to make body parts.
Just as Legos can be built into a house, a car, or castle, when protein is constructed in different ways the results vary. Unlike Legos however, protein takes on different textures depending on how reinforced it is.
Bones need solid, fixed blocks of protein for their strength, but ligaments need flexibility and tensile strength to resist the demands of physical movement.
Under the microscope, we can differentiate proteins further. We find that all protein is made up of arrangements of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids in total, and the specific arrangement of these amino acids allows a protein to focus on rigid strength, tensile strength, and everything in between.
Protein is hard at work in our children’s bodies when they perform on game day, and during every day of training leading up to it. But can kids have protein powder? And how much protein do children need in the first place?
To answer the question: “Can kids have protein powder?”, it’s helpful to look at the overall recommended protein intake for children of different age groups.
How much protein do children need?
Protein is especially important for athletes, as their bodies have to be used to, and able to recover from, extra levels of physical activity. The protein and calorie requirements of athletes are normally higher than for non-athletes. But what are those requirements exactly?
Here are the protein requirements for non-athletes by age group:
What we find striking about this table is how much it reinforces how recommended protein intake is connected to the expected size and weight of your child.
Words like “childhood” or “kids” can easily refer to many different age groups, but this table helps us to distinguish between these groups. When it comes to our question, “Can kids have protein powder?” it's important that we’re specific about these age groups.
Is this a definitive table? Absolutely not. All children have their differences, and there’s no true one-size-fits-all protein approach. The table is best used as a starting point for a conversation between you and your child’s nutritionist or medical health professional.
Young athletes usually require a larger amount of protein than non-athletes because of their lifestyle, but some young athletes will need protein more than others, depending on their sport.
Additionally, puberty affects children at different times. The size and weight of your child may suddenly increase, which is a stronger indication of recommended protein intake than age alone.
The best nutritional advice is targeted to the specific circumstance of your young athlete based on a variety of factors, but tables like this are a great starting point.
Getting the right amount of protein
Can kids have protein powder if they consume the right amount? Like any form of nutrition, it’s important that we get the right amount of it: Not too much and not too little.
Having too little protein leaves the body lacking the resources it needs to function correctly, however taking too much protein also has negative consequences. If the body takes on more protein than it can use, this places extra stresses on the body.
Is protein powder safe for kids? Not if it causes them to be severely above the recommended amount of protein! There are a variety of consequences connected to having too much protein that everyone should be aware of.
Consequences of too much protein
There are considerable risks to anyone, especially children, taking too much protein. They include:
Smaller children have smaller stomachs. Putting too much strain on a child’s digestive system puts an unnecessary burden on their organs. Many young athletes who take protein powders like whey report having problems such as bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea.
It’s worth remembering that whey is a lactose product by definition. If your child has a lactose intolerance, whey is an unhealthy option for them; they should try alternatives such as collagen.
If the protein isn’t used, it is still processed and filtered by the body needlessly. Organs like the kidneys have to work harder to filter waste products, committing resources like hydration to the filtration process (and taking these resources away from other bodily functions).
High levels of protein can also cause kidney stones. Protein processing leads to nitrogen buildup in the liver, which makes it harder for the body to process waste and toxins and decreases the body’s ability to break down other nutrients.
Can kids have protein powder? Yes, but any protein powder that contributes to surpassing the recommended daily intake for protein should be avoided. The best protein powder for kids is one that is easily digested, like a collagen liquid protein shot, but you should still be conscious of exceeding daily limits.
Consequences of too little protein
Considering how useful protein is it’s important for everyone, especially young athletes, to get enough of it. Can kids have protein powder as a possible solution to a protein deficiency? Absolutely!
It’s important for children to get enough protein, as a lack of protein in the diet leads to the following complications:
Stunted growth rates
Protein is used to build and maintain body parts. Without these necessary building blocks, the body will not be able to reach its proper potential.
Many hormones that play a vital role in the body’s immune system are made from protein. If they are not built and reinforced correctly, they are not able to keep the body safe effectively.
Hunger is the body telling us that it’s ready to digest food. We all feel angry and moody when we’re hungry (kids especially!) so it’s best for everyone if we avoid this whenever possible.
It is important to note that protein deficiencies are very rare in the developing world. Most children have ample access to the protein that their bodies need through their diet, and many protein deficiencies are caused by other health complications such as cystic fibrosis or pediatric cancer.
If you believe your child is suffering from a protein deficiency, you should contact their pediatrician or medical health professional to ask if your kids can have protein powder.
But now let’s turn to another big concern. Considering the ingredients and additives in many supplements, is protein powder safe for kids? Can kids take collagen? Or should they look elsewhere for their protein?
Is protein powder safe for kids?
Like any product, there are good quality protein powders on the market and poor quality options too. When we’re asking: “Can kids have protein powder?”, we should only consider good quality products that are suitable for their growing bodies.
When choosing a protein supplement for your child, you want to keep four things in mind: potential allergies, harmful additives, product quality, and digestibility.
Allergy and intolerance concerns
Can kids have protein powder if they have allergies? The good news is, it’s likely that they can (depending on what the protein powder is).
Here too, best protein powder for kids appears to be a collagen protein supplement. We’ve mentioned how when it comes to lactose intolerance, choosing collagen protein vs whey protein is a no-brainer: Collagen protein is much more suitable.
Can kids have protein powder if they’re gluten-intolerant? Yes! Collagen protein doesn’t contain any gluten. And because it’s a natural protein, there are no allergy concerns when it comes to collagen supplements – unless there are additives.
The only consideration is if a collagen supplement contains artificial additives that a child may be allergic to. Some suppliers may try to make their product taste sweeter for example, and that’s a telltale sign that the product isn’t good quality.
Can kids have protein powder that contains additives?
Sugars are primarily a concern from an overall health point of view. If a supplement contains high levels of sugars, then a young athlete won’t be able to regulate their energy levels effectively. Too much sugar is bad for our health. Any protein powder that contains high sugar levels will negate any overall health benefit that the protein was providing, so be sure to check the ingredients.
Moreover, be careful with caffeine as an additive. Kids can have protein powder, but not with added caffeine. For example, Frog Fuel comes with a caffeine option, but this is best left to adult athletes. Instead, you should choose the non-caffeinated version when buying protein powder for kids.
Check the quality
The FDA is not responsible for monitoring products that are not “health products”. As many protein powders are not considered health products, they aren’t subject to the strict safety processes that medical products are.
Because of this, it’s important to do your own research. Choose a product from a trusted company that is backed by studies and glowing consumer reviews.
Collagen’s other secret weapon is its wound healing potential, and the product is considered as a “medical grade product” (if it’s manufactured and sold by a reputable company).
Frog Fuel collagen has been subject to rigorous independent testing in ways that other proteins probably won’t have been. Passing these tests can give consumers extra peace of mind that they’re choosing a quality product.
Choose easily digestible protein supplements
The last thing to consider when deciding if kids can have protein powder is digestibility.
The best protein for kids when it comes to easy digestion is hydrolyzed collagen protein.
What is hydrolyzed collagen? Hydrolyzed collagen is collagen that has gone through a water-pressure process that breaks down the size of the molecule. This makes it easier for the body to digest and absorb.
Frog Fuel collagen is the best protein powder for young athletes because it is actually nano-hydrolyzed. This means it has gone through the process of hydrolysis more than once to make it extra bio-available. In fact, Frog Fuel protein can be fully absorbed in just 15 minutes or less!
When you have a high-quality collagen protein that contains no added sugars and is easily digestible, kids can have protein powder without a doubt. And there are plenty of healthy protein shakes for kids that you can make from them to enjoy their supplement with.
One of the great things about Frog Fuel collagen is that it's actually not a powder at all, it’s a liquid. This means you don’t need to mix it with anything to use it. Your young athlete can pop the single-serve pouches in their pocket or gym bag and take it on the go.
So yes, kids can have protein powder, but they can also enjoy the many benefits of liquid collagen protein.