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Protein Shakes for Kids

Expert Pediatrics Q&A

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Updated May 21, 2014

Boy (10-12) in football uniform drinking from water bottle, close up
Yellow Dog Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Q. My 9-year-old and 7-year-old boys are starting football next week. Practice is from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. I would like to make milkshakes for them after practices using milk, ice cream and protein powder. I was thinking it would be a tasty treat for them after a hot hard work out, but that also a scoop of protein powder after practice and before bed would help their bodies recover from practice. Am I on the right track with this? Thanks. Tim, Florida

A. There are actually a couple of problems with this approach.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "protein supplements have not been shown to enhance muscle development, strength, or endurance."

The average child, even an athletic child, already gets plenty of protein in their diet and does not need extra protein supplements or protein powder shakes. The average American diet already has two or three times the amount of protein they need, so they typically don't need extra protein.

In fact, this extra protein may simply be stored as fat and may not lead to extra muscle mass as you would expect. In addition, high levels of protein intake may lead to dehydration, kidney damage, and increased excretion of calcium, which puts them at risk for kidney stones.

Instead, the AAP recommends that active children stay well hydrated by drinking plain water (best), flavored water, or an appropriate sports drink and that eating "carbohydrates within 30 minutes after intense exercise followed by more carbohydrates 2 hours later helps athletes better prepare for future activities."

As you may know, there are good and bad carbs though. A recommendation to eat carbs as a snack after exercise doesn't mean that your child should eat chips, candy, or other junk food. These high-carb foods are made up of simple sugars and should likely be avoided. Instead, stick with high-fiber complex carbs.

Your kids likely don't need a lot of extra calories before bed though. Instead, encourage them to eat an early dinner an hour or more before practice and then just let them have a small healthy snack after practice.

Milk, ice cream, and protein powder is likely going to provide a high fat, high protein snack that has too many calories. A glass of low fat milk, yogurt, and/or fresh fruit or a fruit smoothie might be better choices. Low fat milk and yogurt are good protein rich foods too.

Sports Supplements for Kids

Giving your pre-teen and younger school age child a protein powder may also just encourage them to continue to use sports supplements later. In fact, about a third of teens in sports use some kind of sports supplement already. And many college athletes use sports supplements, sometimes beginning before they were in high school, including:

  • protein supplements
  • creatine
  • amino acids
  • thermogenics/weight loss products
  • beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate
  • chromium

Of course, the AAP strongly discourages the 'use of performance-enhancing substances for athletic or other purposes.'



Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Sports shorts: performance-enhancing substances.

Creatine and other supplements. Lattavo A - Pediatr Clin North Am - 01-AUG-2007; 54(4): 735-60

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness Use of Performance-Enhancing Substances. Pediatrics 2005 115: 1103-1106.

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