Are Protein Powders Safe for Teens?

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

If your teen is like mine, protein-based supplements, or protein powders, have become a requirement after any workout in order to build as much muscle as possible. Other teens rely on protein supplements to stay fuller longer in order to lose weight. But do you know how much protein your teen actually needs and what types of protein are best for him? It is also important to be aware that too much protein can be harmful for your adolescent.

Protein Needs

Every teen needs protein as part of his or her daily diet. It is important for growing bones, muscles, and tissues. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the amount of protein adolescents need varies at different stages of development. Boys and girls between ages 11 and 14 need a half gram of protein per pound of body weight each day. So, a teenager weighing 110 pounds needs about 50 grams of protein a day. Between the ages of 15 and 18, the recommendation drops slightly.

Sources of Protein

A healthy diet can usually cover daily protein requirements. For example, there are approximately 22 grams of protein in 3 ounces of meat, fish, and poultry. An 8-ounce glass of milk contains about 8 grams of protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter have about 10 grams of protein. Protein powders vary in their ingredients and therefore protein amounts. For example, single ingredient pea protein powder can have 27 grams of protein per serving. Whey protein powder can also contain about 25 grams per serving.

Safety of Protein Powder

Many teens are convinced that the only way to get the protein requirements they need is through daily supplements of protein powder. Some of this idea can be credited to the protein powder industry targeting teens. Adolescents may also turn to protein powders if they are experiencing body image issues. Research has revealed that body image is an issue for around two-thirds of adolescent boys and girls, split between those who want weight loss and those who want weight gain. However, too much protein in a teen’s diet can lead to long-term health problems such as organ damage, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

According to registered dietitian Eleanor Baker, M.S., in a phone interview, safety should be the primary concern when it comes to teens and protein powders.

“My first thought when I talk with anyone about supplements: Is it safe and has it been tested? For teens, or anyone who is looking to protein powder as a supplement in their diet, they should look for and choose protein powders that have been tested by third parties. A third-party testing allows us to verify that the supplement contains what it advertises. This is very important not only for safety reasons but also for teens who are in sports and drug tested. It is not uncommon for an unverified supplement to contain unlisted ingredients that can be banned substances in athlete drug tests.”

Ideas to Consider

It is important to educate your teen on the benefits of an overall balanced diet. As part of this process, you can challenge him to track his protein consumption for at least a few days. If it appears protein supplements are needed, your teen’s doctor will have recommendations for the best approach. If protein powder is recommended, be sure that the product has been tested by a third party and the correct amount is being consumed. Addressing underlying body image issues may also be necessary.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
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Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.