Are protein supplements safe for kids and teens?

Posted at 11:42 PM, Jan 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-07 23:42:11-05

Joe Orlando was just a high school sophomore when he wanted to build muscle to improve his performance on the football field. 

He stepped up his workout routine, changed his diet, and took protein supplements. 

"I wanted to make sure my body was healthy and could take all the impact that was going on throughout the season," he said. 

It's not just athletes adding protein supplements to their diet. Experts say they are seeing more kids taking protein supplements. 

Michele Chiaramonte, a registered dietitian, said children who are still developing need to get protein the good old fashioned way. 

"For the average healthy adolescent, and teenager," Chiaramonte said. "Their protein needs can be met through diet. Supplements are not really necessary."

Protein requirements largely depend on a child's weight, age and activity level. According to the Institute of Medicine, on average children nine to 13 need about 34 grams of protein daily. That increases to 52 grams for boys 14-18 and 46 grams for girls 14-18.

Experts agree you can easily fulfill those needs through protein-rich foods. 

"If the child was taking in the 50 grams of protein that they needed a day and then took a protein supplement on top of that it could give them more protein than they need," Chiaramonte said. 

Too much protein can make your kidneys and liver work harder than they should, which, in turn, can create health risks. 

Ed Reardon, a certified nutritionist and certified trainer to athletes of all levels and ages is a food first fan as well. 

"Kids always want to get all their protein from whole, regular and natural food," Reardon said. "Great idea, great concept. Problem with it is it doesn't match with reality. A lot of times without supplementing protein shakes, protein powders, etc., they're going to have a very difficult time meeting the requirements."

As a parent, if you're interested in protein supplements or discover your child is already taking them, experts encourage you to read labels, watch out for products loaded with sugar or other additives and keep track of total protein intake. 

Orlando went on to play football in college and feels that supplements were necessary for him.

"I'm not sure I would've gotten the full amount of protein my body needed," he said.

Your kids can get all of the protein they need at home, but if they need supplements, do your homework first.