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Should Your Youth Athlete Use Protein?

By Coach Jami "JJ" James, 03/23/18, 10:00AM MDT


So, Here We Go!

Before we get into our Protein discussion,  I wanted to explain the reason that compelled me to write this. My wife (who has been in the nutrition industry for over 10 years) and I run summer Hockey and Adventure camps in Montana. 

Hundreds of campers come through our program each year and if you have ever been a camper you know how much time is spent playing and training. Your child's health and nutrition fluctuate up and down throughout the day, especially during the summer.

Example: 2-3 ice sessions per day, off-ice training, playing, camping, swimming, playing tag and whatever other games they come up with. 

When children go to summer camp they tend to forget about the importance of eating and nutrition, mainly due to the fact that they are wrapped up in playing and making lifelong friends

So to make sure our campers had the proper nutrition intake, we would make the campers homemade protein smoothies with fresh fruit, protein bars, and cookies. Of course, this was a parent-approved process that the campers benefited from and parents were very thankful for.

A group of outside parents that didn't have any campers attending our camp heard that we were providing protein snacks and beverages to our campers--- Allegations of unethical practice were being spread amongst our hockey community and made it's rounds back to us.

So, I write this for those that are interested in keeping their children healthy and growing, for those that are misinformed and those not up to date with the proper knowledge of nutrition.

Protein For Kids

Many of today’s dedicated athletes have one thing in common...the use of Protein shakes. You can’t walk into a training facility without seeing athletes gulping down chocolate, vanilla, and fruit-flavored protein drinks. Grocery store aisles are stocked with protein powders. Supplement stores and The Good Food store caters to adults looking for the best protein powders for their health.

But, what about children? Is it ok for them to add a bit of protein powder to their diets? Is protein safe for children? Are hurting them by allowing them to consume protein powder, or does it offer awesome benefits?


Should Kids Drink Protein Shakes?

First, it’s important to understand the reason you are giving them protein in the first place.

A common sports nutrition questions I receive often, no matter the age group or sport, is should I be using a protein powder? This is especially true of young athletes, or rather, from the parents of young athletes.

Protein is the nutrient that promotes the growth and development of muscles. Growing children (between the ages of 6 and 15) do need some protein, but no more than half a gram of protein per pound of body weight.


Is Protein Safe for Kids? How Much?

Here is the big question: is protein for kids safe?

The answer is simple: in the right dosage, absolutely! According to the CDC:

  • Children between the ages of 1 to 3 can take up to 13 grams of protein per day
  • Children between the ages of 1 to 3 can take up to 13 grams of protein per day
  • Teenaged boys can take up to 56 grams and teenaged girls up to 46 grams


This doesn’t mean you only use protein powder, you should include other sources of protein in their daily diet.

One dilemma with protein for kids and many other protein powders is that they usually taste pretty gross. So, how can you get your kids to eat the protein?

Here are some simple ways to achieve that:

  • Bake cookies, bars or brownies with protein powder
  • Hot chocolate with protein powder
  • Use fruit-flavored protein powder to juices
  • Using flavorless protein powder with soups, stews and pasta sauces


It’s fairly easy to add protein powder in the right recipes. Your kids won’t even know what they are eating it and they won’t mind the taste.


Please, keep in mind that your child doesn’t NEED protein powder.


Here are some natural sources of protein include:

  • Cheese
  • Chicken/turkey
  • Beef/Pork
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Tofu/Soy Products
  • Nuts/Seeds


So as you can see, there are other ways to make sure that your child gets plenty of protein without using protein powders!


Benefits of Protein for Kids

Here are some of the reasons that taking whey protein for kids can be a good idea.

Benefits of whey protein for kids:

  • Promote growth — Protein powders (whey protein in particular) contains the amino acids that are needed to keep your kids growing healthy and strong

  • Conducive to hormone production — As your children pass into puberty, their bodies will begin to produce hormones. Protein is needed for the production and distribution of those hormones.

  • Aid in weight loss — Many children are suffering from obesity today, but adding protein powder to your child’s diet can help them to lose weight. Not only will it speed up their metabolism, but it will help them to feel full more easily.

  • Boost immune system — Not only will whey protein for kids help to develop strong muscles, but it can boost their natural defenses against infections


Which is the Best Protein for Kids?

If you are going to give your kids protein powder, whey protein is probably the best option for kids. Not only is it much easier on their digestive systems, but it will boost their immune system and give them all the nutrients they need quickly.

Other proteins are a bit harder to digest and some of the other nutrients like amino acids work more slowly, but it’s another good option. Egg and non-GMO soy protein powders aren’t as tasty as the milk-derived protein powders, but they do offer the same benefits.


Protein powders to avoid?

  • Genetically Modified Soy protein powder
  • High-sugar protein powder
  • Highly artificial protein powder