A few weeks ago I received a question from a reader about protein supplements, specifically protein powder and children. I wasn’t entirely sure of the answer— and with some research I realized I needed the advice from someone that works with supplements more often than I do. That’s where Kristen Chang, MS, RDN, came to the rescue! Not only did Kristen answer my question [read on to learn more], she wrote an entire article on protein powder that I’m sharing with you today. I hope you enjoy today’s post and learn a thing or two about protein!
Kristen Chang, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, endurance athlete, and owner of Real Food For Fuel, LLC. Kristen works with athletes of all ages, genders and sports to optimize their nutrition for performance and health. Learn more about Kristen at Realfoodforfuel.com.
Protein has many different functions in the body and is an essential component in our diet. Specific protein needs vary based on age, gender, physical activity level and other special considerations, however, most individuals have no difficulties meeting their protein needs through diet alone (read more here). If you’re considering a protein supplement, my first recommendation is to stick with and emphasize whole food sources of protein first. Before reaching for that supplement, first consider how you can naturally adjust your daily food choices to encourage greater protein intake!
Protein Powder Facts & Buying Guide
If and when you decide to supplement protein in your diet, you should invest in a quality product from a well-known brand and preferably one that is 3rd party tested for quality and safety. Key qualities to look for in a quality product include minimal ingredients and products without artificial sugars. Many products have a long list of ingredients that cannot be pronounced or that we have not even heard of. These are products to avoid.
There many types of protein powders to choose from– whey, casein, egg, soy, rice, pea and hemp protein are the main ones on the market. All are safe, and the pros and cons vary based on the rationale for using a protein supplement (i.e. muscle gain vs. extra calories). Here are some key differences to consider:
- Whey, casein and egg proteins are all animal-based. Research shows that casein digests slower into the bloodstream than whey, making whey protein the more ideal choice post-workout for rebuilding and recovery. It should also be noted that the protein in chocolate milk is 82% casein and 18% whey.
- Soy, rice, pea and hemp proteins are all plant-based.
- Many protein supplements have added artificial sugars to cut calories without compromising taste. Be sure to inspect the nutrition facts label and steer clear of additions such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose.
Protein Supplements & Kids
At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that children can safely begin whey supplementation as early as 1 year old, but the generalized consensus is to steer clear of protein supplements for kids and toddlers of all ages if it is not warranted. If meeting protein needs is of concern, aim to boost protein intake in the diet through natural sources such as milk, powdered milk, greek yogurt, cottage cheese and other quality animal and plant-based proteins. While whey protein can be safely consumed by kids (many infant formulas also contain whey and casein), remember that excess protein above and beyond needs can lead to potential weight gain. Remember to never offer any supplement to your child unless prior approved by a pediatrician.
Protein supplements should be chosen for their quality and health, and not for protein content alone. There’s a big difference between a supplement from a well-known 3rd party-tested manufacturer, and one that contains fillers, sugars, dyes and chemicals, etc. And remember, it’s always best to get nutrients, including protein, from whole foods first, supplements second!