Protein is your body’s main building block. It helps form muscle, produce hormones, strengthen skin and bones, and transport nutrients. It’s so important, you might think more protein equals a stronger you.
But, consuming extra protein — particularly from protein supplements — isn’t necessarily healthy, says sports nutrition specialist Diana Schnee, MS, RD, LD. And that’s especially true for children. In fact, too much protein in a child’s diet could lead to long-term health problems.
“In most Western countries, children already get two to three times the protein they need daily,” she says. “It’s uncommon for a child to need extra.”
Still, taking protein supplements or adding protein powders to foods, shakes or smoothies is a popular trend for growing children and teenagers. You may notice this trend more if your child is an athlete — especially if you have a boy who wants to bulk up and get bigger and stronger.
So how much protein is enough? Ten percent to 30 percent of your calorie intake should come from protein, says the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine,:
Overall, children should get enough protein every day if they eat two servings of dairy, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and one or two servings of lean protein, such as lean beef, pork, poultry, fish. Anything additional from protein supplements exceeds their daily needs.
It’s a myth that boys or children who are more active need more protein to fuel their bodies, Ms. Schnee says. They do burn more protein, but only elite athletes should consider adding protein to their diets, and only if they are older than 18, she says.
Instead of helping, adding extra protein from supplements to your child’s diet can cause long-term health problems, including:
There are special cases in which a child might need additional dietary protein. But, even then, protein supplements or shakes aren’t the best option, Ms. Schnee says.
Your child may need extra protein if he or she:
Remember, real foods — not protein supplements — are always better for growing bodies, especially after a hard workout.
“Teens and teen athletes are sometimes drawn to protein supplements after a workout,” she says. “But kids need a combination of protein and carbs to rebuild muscle broken down during a workout. It’s always best for them to eat a meal.”