At What Age Can Kids Start Taking Protein Powder?

The risks of protein powders for kids may outweigh the benefits.
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Kids grow fast, so it makes sense that people often wonder what age is safe to start giving kids protein powder in foods like protein shakes.

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The truth is, using protein powder may not be the best option for kids for a few reasons. "Most children get enough protein from their current diet. If you are concerned that your child is not eating enough protein, talk with a doctor or registered dietitian," says culinary nutritionist Caitlin Lewis, RD, a Bluffton, South Carolina, dietitian and owner of Lowcountry Nutrition. "Plus, extra protein can be harmful for your child if they don't need it. Excess protein can cause dehydration, weight gain and possibly kidney stones."

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How Much Protein Do Children Need?

Adults need about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (that's 2.2 pounds) of body weight, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Most people get enough protein from their diet, making it unnecessary to use protein powder, according to Harvard Health. In general, the same is true for children. Here's a breakdown of the protein needs for kids, according to their age.

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Protein Needs By Age Group

Age

6-12

months

12 months-

3 years

4-8 years

9-13 years

14-18 years

Grams of Protein/Day

11

13

19

34

46-54

Source: The Cleveland Clinic

To help meet these needs, the Cleveland Clinic provides a list of high-protein foods and the amounts of protein they have per serving:

  • Edamame: 9 grams
  • Lentils: 9 grams
  • Split peas: 8 grams
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast: 27 grams
  • Greek yogurt: 11 grams
  • 1 percent cottage cheese: 14 grams
  • Canned tuna packed in water: 20 grams

Tip

Your child is likely getting enough protein from the milk they drink or the foods they eat. Having too much protein can be a health risk for children, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Potential risks of too much protein for babies and children include weight gain, kidney damage and weakened immune function.

Always talk to your child's pediatrician before starting new supplements.

Can Babies Have Protein Powder?

Babies aged 6 months to 12 months need 11 grams of protein per day, while babies aged 12 to 23 months need about 13 grams, according to the USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

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In their first two years of life, babies are able to get all of the nutrients they need from breast milk and/or infant formula, per the USDA. Children younger than 6 months should not be introduced to any other foods, including protein powder.

Children that do not drink breast milk or cow's milk, like those eating a vegan diet, may need more protein in their diet, but the USDA Guidelines suggest that it should come from food rather than a supplement. Soy milk comes closest to cow's milk in terms of protein content, but other plant-based milk alternatives may be lacking. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned that your baby isn't getting enough protein.

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Toddlers Age 2 to 4

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. But, most get enough nutrients even from the small amounts of food they eat. In general, if your child does not have any major health problems, such as a metabolic condition, they probably don't need to drink protein shakes, per the Cleveland Clinic.

People often wonder if, in particular, whey protein is safe for toddlers. Whey protein is a popular derived from cow's milk that provides extra protein in your diet. If your toddler is not allergic to milk or milk-based products, it's likely that they can tolerate whey protein powder.

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But, as mentioned, supplemental protein for toddlers usually isn't necessary and can pose risks if their protein levels become too high. For that reason, protein powder for toddlers is probably best avoided. Talk to your child's pediatrician if you're concerned.

Kids Aged 4 to 13

Kids between the ages of four and 13 years will need anywhere between 19 and 34 grams of protein per day, depending on how many calories they eat, per the Cleveland Clinic.

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It's likely safe for kids to have whey protein powder if they don't have allergies to milk or dairy products. That being said, outside of allergies, there are other risks you should be aware of before giving your kids protein powder.

Your 12-year-old most likely gets plenty of protein in their diet, and too much protein can put them at risk for kidney problems and dehydration, per the Cleveland Clinic. It's also important to keep in mind that supplements, such as protein powders, aren't regulated by the FDA. In fact, many protein powder blends have ingredients that aren't suitable for children, such as creatine. Always pay attention to the ingredient list on the product packaging before giving your child protein powder.

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Teens Aged 14 to 18

Maybe your teen is an athlete and wants to improve their athletic performance by taking protein powder.

Physically active teens may need more protein than other kids their age, according to Teen's Health. These kids need more protein due to the greater number of calories burned and muscle proteins broken down during training, sports or play.

The only other group that doesn't always get enough protein is teens assigned female at birth between ages 14 and 18, according to the USDA.

But again, despite the fact that athletes and some other teens may need more protein in their diets, resorting to protein powder usually isn't necessary and may have more risks than benefits, according to Teen's Health. The organization recommends giving teens more nutrient-dense sources of protein, including chicken, fish, lean beef and dairy products.

Risks of Protein Powder for Kids

If you do decide to give protein powder to your kids, you should be aware of risks that come with it. According to the National Center for Health Research, protein powder:

  • Is considered a supplement and is therefore unregulated by the FDA — it's up to manufacturers to evaluate product safety and labeling (with no set requirement), so you can't know if manufacturers are being truthful about their product's ingredients.
  • Can be filled with sugar, which can create unintended weight gain or an unhealthy spike in blood sugar. Some powders may have as many as 23 grams of added sugar in each scoop, nearly exceeding the American Heart Association daily recommendation of 25 to 36 grams of added sugar in a single serving.
  • Could include such additives as creatine, which isn't safe for children.
  • May include added caffeine.

Moreover, a 2018 study by nonprofit group Clean Label Project screened 134 protein powder products across 52 brands for 130 different types of toxins. The results found that many protein powders contained lead (70 percent), BPA (55 percent), pesticides and other contaminants linked to cancer and health concerns. The study found one product even contained over 25 times the allowed regulatory BPA limit in one serving alone.

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