With protein powder being so common in both gym lockers and on kitchen shelves, it’s not really surprising that there is increasing interest in kids protein powder and that they are starting to appear on the market.
But are kids protein powders safe? Should you look at adding them to your child’s diet? And which ones are suitable for young people?
Let me start off by saying that though there are brands that make protein powder for kids, here at SmartPlay we don’t recommend adding nutritional supplements to your children’s diets unless you are advised to be so by a medical professional.
Kids and Protein
We all need a healthy, balanced diet to keep us fit, sharp and firing on all cylinders.
This is especially true for children, who are laying the foundations of the bodies and brains that they will have for life. Missing out on vital nutrients in our early years can have awful life-long effects – from a lack of Vitamin D resulting in the pain and weak, soft bones of Rickets or Kwashiorkor, a protein malnutrition which presents as a swollen stomach, delayed growth and not bring able to fight off infections.
Fortunately, for the majority of Australian children, their nutritional needs are met by their daily diet.
In fact, many children inn the Western world consume 2-3 times the amount of protein that they actually need, daily.
And this is the main point to make here. Most children should be able to get sufficient nutrients – including a range of proteins – from eating a variety of healthy foods.
Should Kids Ever Take Protein Powders?
There are a number of reasons why a doctor might recommend a kids protein powder as part of a child’s dietary intake:
- Illness – A sick child may struggle to eat correctly or to process what they do eat effectively and this may adversely affect their recovery. Similarly, a youngster getting over an illness may benefit from a kids protein powder fortified with vitamins and minerals.
- Vegan or Vegetarian Diet – Making sure that you get all the amino acids necessary to be healthy can take a bit of planning if you’re a strict vegetarian. If you’re a vegan, this becomes even tougher as there are a limited number of complete proteins available in the plant world. Children raised on a plant-based diet may need dietary supplements to keep their protein levels etc up. Especially if they are fussy eaters. Which brings us to…
- Fussy Eater – I was once told by the mother of an 8 year-old who was ‘a nightmare to feed’ that she knew for a fact that a toddler could live for 3 months solely on chicken nuggets, tomato ketchup and milk! Now while that particular ‘diet’ is actually comparatively rich in protein, you get my point. Trying to get a stubborn child to eat something that they don’t want to can to a thankless, very stressful, task. In such cases, a kids protein powder might keep the stubborn child thriving and their parents sane.
- Underweight – Again, under medical advice, if a child is failing to put on weight as a paediatrician would expect, then taking a protein supplement for a period of time may help.
- Metabolic Condition – Like above, a doctor may suggest a kids protein powder as part of dealing with such a condition.
Is Protein Powder Safe for Kids?
Under medical supervision, there may be a place for this type of nutritional supplement in your child’s diet.
However, there are a number of dangers that you should be aware of:
Choose a Protein Powder for Kids
The first thing to say is that a run-of-the-mill protein powder will is designed for an adult body and not that of a child. So if you are thinking of giving your son or daughter a protein supplement, make sure that you buy an specialised kids protein powder and don’t just give them a smaller measure of what you usually take!
Lack of Regulations
The biggest issue with taking a kids protein powder – or any protein powder for that matter – is proper regulations.
Here in Australia we began to regulate what goes into therapeutic goods (including protein supplements) from November 30 2020 (For more information, see here), but other countries still have no checks on what is actually going into protein powders and whether or not they contain what their packaging claims.
With this in mind, don’t buy from online from overseas and stick to respected brands.
A kids protein powder generally contains sugars and lots of extra calories, so if they take too much of it or if it hasn’t been prescribed by a doctor, they are likely to gain weight. Unless weight gain is specifically what you are aiming for, this can lead to a whole range of issues.
Too much protein can cause stress in the body and this is a particular risk for children.
High levels of protein can cause issues such as kidney stones. In addition, they may also become dangerously dehydrated as their kidneys need to work harder to deal with the raised protein levels.
Which Kids Protein Powder?
Whichever one your paediatrician recommends.
A paediatrician should know exactly what supplements your child needs (if any), their correct formulation, and which brand is most suitable.
There are a number of kids protein powders, snacks and nutritional shakes on the market, but it is advisable to talk to your child’s doctor before you start introducing them into your child’s diet.
That said, if your child’s paediatrician suggests a protein supplement, go for a reputable brand, avoid additives like artificial flavourings and colours, avoid sugar and sweeteners and check the protein level as detailed on the labelling.
Kids Protein Powder and Formula
But hang on a minute. Isn’t infant formula pretty much a kids protein powder?
This is a tricky one. Infant formula is by some measures a protein powder (amongst other things), but a regular protein powder is not a replacement for a carefully created formula.
Infant formula serves a very specific purpose and the aim is for it to resemble a human mother’s breast milk. It is a finely balanced blend of proteins (whey and casein are the most common sources), fats, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates.
The fact that there are a number of different ‘stages’ of formula available – from pre-formula and stage 1 for newborns up to stage 3 toddler formula – shows that what goes into these powdered milks is very specific and not easy to replace with a few scoops of protein powder.
Bodybuilders Taking Infant Formula – Urban Myth?
Spend a little time in online forums and you will discover that there are a gym goers who advocate drinking infant formula as a supplement to, or in place of, a regular protein powder.
The theory behind this is that baby formula is a rich source of protein – usually whey or casein – and it cheaper than many of the big brands of nutritional supplement.
Well it’s also not the same.
Protein powders are specially created to provide a hit of protein, but no fat. In contrast, formula includes some level of fat as babies need it to grow.
Please read our piece on blended protein powders if you’d like to know more about whey and casein blends and whether or not using skimmed milk is a good idea.
So Should I give My Child a Kids Protein Powder?
There may be medical reasons to add a kids protein powder to your little ones snack list and if there are, your child’s doctor will advise you.
If this is the case, make sure you know exactly why your doctor is recommending such a supplement, which one is best suited to your child’s needs and choose a reputable brand which meets Australian standards.