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Protein powders are normally consumed by adults; however, there are questions around whether protein supplements are safe and necessary for teenagers.
While certain protein powders can be safe for teenagers, in most cases adding a protein powder is unnecessary.
Teens should be encouraged to get their protein from whole foods. However, if protein powder is included in a teen’s diet, parents need to ensure that it has been third-party tested.
It is important to consider the fact that while protein powders are a commonly consumed supplement, they can potentially do more harm than good.
Overconsumption of protein can become easy when including a protein supplement, which can have negative effects on a teenager’s health.
- Protein powder can be a source of protein for teens with busy schedules, picky eaters, or vegetarians. Taking protein powder can also be a tool to increase caloric intake if a teenager is underweight.
- Teenagers should get the majority of their protein from whole foods in order to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Whey protein has also been found to cause acne in some teenagers, which could be a reason to avoid it altogether.
- When shopping for a protein powder for teenagers, look for brands that contain minimal artificial ingredients or fillers, are third-party tested, and have at least 20 grams of protein per serving.
Are Teenagers Allowed to Take Protein Powders?
While it is recommended that teenagers avoid protein powder supplements and get their protein from whole foods, there is nothing preventing teens from buying or consuming protein supplements.
Because there is nothing that prevents a teenager from purchasing and taking a protein powder, it is imperative that parents of teenagers who wish to consume it are properly educated on which brands are the safest, along with how much is safe to consume.
Are Protein Powders Safe for Teens?
1. Protein Powder Can Help To Fill In Gaps in a Teens Diet if They Are Not Consuming Enough Whole Food Protein Sources
If your teen is a picky eater and does not include a variety of whole food protein sources in their diet, including a protein powder is an efficient way of ensuring that they are getting their minimum protein requirement in their day.
If you are worried that your teen is not consuming enough protein, try having them keep a food journal for a few days to calculate the protein they are consuming.
If you find that they are under the recommendation, try adding in whole food sources before the addition of a protein powder (we’ll discuss protein recommendations for teens below).
It is also suggested that in cases like this, you consult a health professional or dietician in regard to the most optimal ways to increase your teen’s protein intake.
Book a 20-min free consultation with us if you have any questions about your teen’s protein consumption.
- Related Article: Is Whey Protein Good For Women? (What Science Says)
2. Whey Protein Contains All 9 Essential Amino Acids
Whey protein is a protein source that contains all 9 of the essential amino acids, which are crucial for functions such as creating immune cells and building muscle.
This is particularly beneficial if your teen does not have a lot of complete protein sources (meat, poultry, eggs, fish, etc.) in their diet.
3. Protein Powder Can Provide a Fast Source of Nutrition for a Teen Athlete Who Does Not Have the Time To Consume a Whole Food Protein Source
If your teen is extremely active and needs to have a fast, easily digestible form of nutrition between activities, incorporating a protein powder in these situations may be the most optimal way for your teen to fuel their bodies.
This type of supplementation should only be reserved for those moments when your teen can’t eat a whole-food meal.
For example, if your teen is an athlete who has a basketball tournament that requires playing multiple back-to-back games in one day, including a high-quality protein would be a fast, quickly digested, and efficient form of nutrition.
- Related Article: Can Teenagers Take Pre-Workout? (What Science Says)
1. The Overconsumption of Protein Can Result in Health Issues
One of the main concerns when including protein powder in a teenager’s diet is the risk of overconsuming protein.
With the inclusion of a protein powder, it can be extremely easy to go over the daily requirement of protein.
“High protein, low carb diets are never recommended for young athletes. Too much protein will cause problems. Since our bodies can’t store extra protein to use later, we will have to spend a significant amount of energy processing it, using up energy and water, two important resources for athletes. Eventually, extra protein will be converted into fat. Too much protein can cause nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea and can even stress the liver and kidneys.”-Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann, Pediatrician
While the exact amount of protein that a teenager needs is dependent on their height, weight, and activity level, in general, the protein requirement for teens is:
- 52 grams of protein for teenage boys ages 14-18, or 0.39 grams per pound of bodyweight. For a male teen athlete, this requirement may increase slightly to around 0.45-0.68 grams per pound of body weight.
- 46 grams of protein for teenage girls ages 14-18, or 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. For a female teen athlete, this requirement may increase slightly to around 0.41-0.64 grams per pound of body weight.
This would mean that a 15-year-old 150-pound athletic male would need to consume between 68 and 102 grams of protein per day.
These requirements are on the higher end and can be easily met through the consumption of whole foods, and eating three balanced meals per day.
If a teenager consumes more than their daily requirement on a consistent basis, they run the risk of ailments such as nausea and diarrhea, and even loss of appetite.
In addition to this, a very high protein diet over time can cause kidney stones as the kidneys have to work overtime in order to filter waste. This can contribute to chronic dehydration.
If your teen eats too much protein, this can also cause the body to create high nitrogen levels in the liver, which can make it harder for the liver to do its job in filtering toxins, along with lowering the body’s capacity to break down nutrients.
2. Whey Protein Can Lead to Acne in Teens
Acne is one of the most common issues that teens are faced with, and while it does not pose a serious risk to their health, if severe enough it can be painful, cause scarring, and can lower one’s self-esteem.
“Why would whey protein trigger acne? In research studies, milk at such high levels can increase levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth hormone 1 (ILGF-1). Research studies in humans, animals, and in the laboratory have shown that this particular hormone can impact the sebaceous glands and cause increased clogging of the pores.”-Dr. Rajana Katta, MD
If your teen already struggles with acne, it would be in their best interest to stay away from whey protein powders, due to the fact that whey protein has been linked to acne flares in teenage athletes.
In cases like this, a teen athlete is better off getting their protein sources from things like chicken, red meat, eggs, and fish.
3. Protein Powders With Harmful Additives Can Lead to Weakened Immune Systems and Digestive Issues in Teens
One risk that you take when consuming protein powders is the fact that dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and therefore can contain additives and ingredients that are harmful to your health.
For example, researchers have found that many protein powders contain harmful heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury.
There was also evidence of pesticides and other harmful substances that have been linked to diseases such as cancer.
Many protein powders also contain a high amount of sugars and/ or artificial sweeteners, which are not optimal for your teen’s health.
In addition to this, the consumption of a whey protein powder in particular can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some people, and the lack of fiber found in protein powder could lead to further digestive issues such as gas and constipation.
4. Over Consuming Protein Powder While Neglecting Whole Food Protein
If your teen is relying too heavily on protein powders for nutrition, there is a good chance that they could be missing out on essential nutrients that are found in whole-food protein sources.
For example, red meat is an exceptional source of B Vitamins, niacin, iron, zinc, and phosphorus.
Similarly, eggs are high in vitamins A, D, E, and folate along with disease-fighting nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.
These are only a few examples of many when it comes to the nutrient content of whole food protein sources.
For overall health, it is best that a teenager acquires the majority of their protein through whole foods.
- Related Article: 30 Ways To Increase Protein Without Protein Powder
Reasons Why Teens Should or Shouldn’t Take Protein Powder
For the average teenager, the inclusion of a protein powder in their diet is unnecessary, and while teen athletes have a slightly higher protein requirement, they can easily acquire this extra protein from food rather than supplements.
With this in mind, there are a few different scenarios where the inclusion of a high-quality protein supplement may be beneficial for a teenager.
The specific situations where a protein powder may be necessary include:
1. If Your Teen Is Very Underweight
While the inclusion of a protein powder should not be the first thing you do if your teen is underweight, it might be something to talk with your doctor or dietician about.
If you determine that your teen may be underweight due to an underconsumption of calories and protein, it may be in their best interest to include a protein powder in order to avoid any issues in growth and development.
- Read more about the calories in protein shakes where we break down 9 examples.
2. If Your Teen Is Vegan/Vegetarian or a Very Picky Eater
If your teen eats a vegetarian or a vegan diet, they are missing out on many high-protein food sources, and as a result, often consume less protein than they need.
If this is the case, then it may be optimal to add a high-quality plant-based protein powder into your teen’s diet.
With that said, it is still important for teenagers who eat a vegetarian or a vegan diet to focus on obtaining protein primarily through whole foods.
Plant foods that are high in protein include things like tofu, lentils, quinoa, almond, and chia seeds.
- Related Article: Dirty Bulking As A Teenager: A Closer Look & Is It Safe?
Does The Type of Protein Matter for Teens?
If your teen decides that they want to include a protein powder in their diet in moderation, the next step is to determine which type of protein powder is most optimal.
Certain types of protein powder will be better depending on the individual. We are going to take a look at whey protein, casein protein, and plant-based pea protein.
- Whey Protein: The benefits of whey protein for your teenager are that it is a complete protein, is quickly and easily digested (if you tolerate cow’s dairy), and is a complete protein source that is more efficient at building muscle compared to casein.
- Casein Protein: Casein protein powder is more beneficial if your teen struggles with hunger levels and never feels full, since casein digests slower than whey protein and can help you feel fuller for longer.
- Plant-Based Pea Protein: A plant-based pea protein will be the best option for a teenager who eats a vegan diet, or who does not digest cow’s dairy well. Pea protein is high in iron, contains all 9 essential amino acids, and does not contain any of the top 8 food allergens.
How Much Whey Protein Should Teens Consume?
If we take into consideration the fact that teens should not rely on protein supplements to meet their requirements, the amount of whey protein that they should consume is quite low.
For example, if a 15-year-old 150-pound male athlete aims to consume around 102 grams of protein a day, consuming 1 scoop of protein powder would account for roughly 21 grams of their daily requirement.
At What Age Can A Teen Start To Consider Taking Protein?
If your teenager is in good health, has an optimal body weight, and eats a diverse diet full of protein-rich whole foods, then it is generally recommended to wait until the age of 18 before introducing a protein powder.
However, you might consider including a protein powder in your teenager’s diet if they are struggling to eat complete protein sources in the form of whole foods (either from a busy schedule, food aversions, or a high-calorie requirement).
In cases like these, there is no official age that a teen can start to consume protein powder, so you could consider introducing a small amount of high-quality protein powder at any time.
For example, if your 15-year-old son is underweight and has an aversion to meat, dairy, and other high-protein foods, you could consider adding a serving of high-quality protein powder to a daily breakfast smoothie.
What To Watch Out for When Buying Protein Powder for Teens
When shopping for a protein powder for your teenager, there are certain things to keep in mind to ensure you are purchasing the highest quality product possible.
The top requirements for sourcing a quality protein powder for your teen are:
1. Look for a protein powder where the first ingredient is either a whey or plant-based protein source, without the addition of fillers, sweeteners, and sugars. Ideally you want to find a protein powder that is under 2 grams of sugar per serving.
2. If it is a whey protein, look for where the protein is sourced and opt for a grass-fed protein if possible. This will indicate that the company is focused on the quality of their product
3. If it is a plant-based protein, look for certified organic labels to ensure that you are not consuming harmful pesticides and herbicides that are conventionally sprayed on crops.
4. Look for protein powders that have at least 20 grams of protein per serving. This requirement might lower slightly for a plant-based protein.
5. Most importantly, opt for protein powder brands that have been third-party tested for banned substances, and to make sure the label is accurate. Resources for third-party testing include NSF International, Informed Choice, and the Clean Label Project.
Best Protein Powders for Teens
My top 3 brands of protein powder that I recommend for teenagers are:
This brand of whey protein is a great choice because not only is it a grass-fed source of protein, but it contains only one ingredient so you don’t have to worry about additional additives or fillers.
While it does contain a bit of added sugar, you can also get this brand of protein unflavored.
This brand of plant based protein is great for any teen that doesn’t digest dairy well or eats a vegan diet. This protein is also third party tested and contains probiotics for gut health. This brand comes in chocolate and vanilla.
While it is not as commonly seen, bone broth protein powder is an amazing option for those who have allergies or reactions to dairy and grains. This protein powder is very soothing on the gut and is 3rd party tested. You can buy this brand in unflavoured or flavored.
Protein Powder Myths – Does Protein Powder Stunt Growth?
A common misconception about protein powder is that it can stunt your growth, which could understandably make you question whether or not it is safe to have in your teenager’s diet.
There are no components or ingredients in a protein powder that would cause it to stunt your growth.
In fact, the amino acids found in protein powder could help with muscle growth and recovery which is extremely important if your teenager is active and participates in sports.
Protein Powder & Teens: Frequently Asked Questions
Can A 12-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
The use of protein powders is typically recommended for individuals over the age of 18. Therefore, it is encouraged that a 12-year-old acquires their protein from whole foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish and dairy.
Protein can also be acquired through plant foods such as certain grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Can A 13-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
While there is nothing that stops a 13-year-old from using protein powder, it is better for teens to acquire protein through whole foods rather than a supplement.
One reason for this is that the overconsumption of protein can pose a health risk to teens, along with the fact that protein powders are not regulated by the FDA.
Can A 14-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
For most 14-year-old teens, protein powder is an unnecessary addition to their diet since they can acquire more than enough of their protein requirements through whole food meals.
There are rare situations where a protein powder could be considered for a 14-year-old, such as if the teen eats a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Can A 15-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
While a protein supplement could help a 15-year-old reach their protein requirements, protein supplements are not recommended for teens who eat a well-balanced diet.
Overdoing the consumption of protein powders can cause health issues such as liver and kidney damage in teens, and therefore is best avoided if possible.
Can A 16-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
Due to the fact that protein powders have generally been tested on the adult population and not on teenagers, it is generally recommended that a 16-year-old avoid the consumption of protein supplements and acquire their protein through whole foods instead.
Can A 17-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
In general, it is recommended that teenagers under the age of 18 avoid getting their protein through supplements and choose whole foods instead.
Therefore, it is better if a 17-year-old teenager acquires their protein through whole foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Can A 18-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
Protein powders are generally recognized as safe for individuals who are 18 years old and over.
While it is important to make sure that you are also obtaining protein in your diet through whole food sources, including a high-quality protein powder can be a part of a well-balanced diet for an adult.
Can A 19-Year-Old Take Protein Powder?
Yes, a 19-year-old can take protein powder, however it is advised to first focus on eating a diet that contains ample amounts of whole food protein sources.
In addition to this, if including a protein powder in your diet, it is encouraged to seek out brands that are third party tested and contain minimal additives.
What To Read Next
Many teens are doing ‘dry scooping’ challenges with protein powder. Read what ‘dry scooping’ is and why we DO NOT recommend it.
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Rother, K.I. (2018). How Non-nutritive Sweeteners Influence Hormones and Health. Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 29(7). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tem.2018.04.010.
Williams, P. (2007). Nutritional composition of red meat. International Journal of Food Science & Technology, 42(1), 103-119. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-0080.2007.00197.x.
Burd NA, Yang Y, Moore DR, Tang JE, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Greater stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis with ingestion of whey protein isolate v. micellar casein at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men. Br J Nutr. 2012 Sep 28;108(6):958-62. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511006271. Epub 2012 Jan 31. PMID: 22289570.
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About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.
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