Protein powder has grown in popularity lately. Protein supplements of all kinds line the grocery store isles, promising amazing results such as muscle growth, weight loss, and more. It can be a confusing and overwhelming market to navigate. With such a quick and convenient way to increase protein intake, you may wonder if protein powder is a safe option for young teenagers.
Most protein powder is not typically recommended for those under 18. However, there may be certain 14-year old’s that could benefit from using a protein powder if it is safe and made with high quality ingredients.
Read more to find out how much protein a 14-year old needs, who might benefit from protein powder, and protein supplements that are recommended by a dietitian.
Should 14-Year Olds Take Protein Powder?
There are many reasons why 14-year olds want to take protein powder. Protein powders are expensive, not very well regulated, and not well-studied in teenagers. It’s best for most 14-year olds to get protein from food first, and then to look into supplementation if they cannot meet their needs through food alone.
Benefits of Protein
Protein is referred to as the building block of the body. It is an essential nutrient for everything in the body to function normally. It is used in building and maintaining bone, blood cells, muscle, hair, skin, vitamins, hormones, and more.
Protein also plays a role in the following:
- Maintaining appropriate blood sugar levels
- Maintaining appropriate blood pressure
- Helping increase feelings of fullness and satisfaction
- Slowing digestion to sustain energy for longer
- Repairing and building damaged muscle cells
- Transporting nutrients and other substances to the rest of the body
Meeting protein needs is extremely important for a 14-year old who is growing and developing, however, most 14-year olds are getting well above the recommended protein intake each day through a normal diet.
How Much Protein Does a 14-Year Old Need?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is about 46 grams of protein per day for females ages 14-18, and 52 grams for males in the same age group. However, protein needs are different for every 14-year old. Sex, weight, body composition, and activity level all play in to how much protein someone needs.
Protein intake should make up about 10-35% of your daily calorie intake. Athletes generally need more protein than non-athletes. Below is a quick and easy way to calculate protein needs based on body weight and activity.
- Non-athletes: Body weight (in pounds) x 0.3-0.4
- Athletes: Body weight (in pounds) x 0.45-0.6
This will give you an approximate gram amount of protein to be consumed daily. For example, a 14-year old that weighs 140 pounds and is not an athlete will likely need somewhere between 42-84 grams of protein. This may seem like a wide range for daily protein intake, so how do you determine how much is really needed for your body?
These calculations should be used in conjunction with mindful eating techniques to determine the appropriate amount of protein for an individual. Teenagers should be encouraged to pay attention to how different foods make their body feel, which combinations of food provide lasting energy, and what amount of protein makes them feel their best.
What You Need to Know About Protein Supplementation for Teens
Protein supplementation is not typically recommended for teenagers under 18. This is for a number of reasons:
- Protein supplements have not been well tested on this age group.
- Supplements are very poorly regulated and some have been found to contain very dangerous contaminants. This is even more risky for a teenager who is still in a period of growth and development.
- Drinking protein supplements may cause you to miss out on essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in real foods.
- When using protein supplements, it can be easy to overload the body with more protein than is really needed. This can be harmful to the kidneys and also cause gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea and bloating.
- Consuming more protein than is necessary may also throw off the balance of carbohydrates and fats, both of which are also essential to growing 14-year olds. Foods with carbohydrates and fats also have important vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function.
- Protein provides calories and in excess of energy needs, this could lead to weight gain.
Still, if a 14-year old has a legitimate need for using protein supplementation and has been given the green light from a doctor, there are many safe supplements on the market that can be beneficial. It is best to work with a dietitian to determine if you need a supplement, and which one would best meet your needs.
Who Would Benefit from a Protein Supplement?
Protein supplements are quick and easy ways to consume enough protein. There are some situations which may warrant their use. Examples of when it may be appropriate to use a protein supplement are listed below:
- After surgery when protein needs are higher for recovery
- After getting braces on, or other dental work done, where chewing is painful
- Athletes that have a difficult time consuming enough protein and calories or who have trouble eating solid food before or after workouts
- Teens with allergies or intolerances that make it hard to eat protein foods
- Teens following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle
Additionally, protein supplements are so popular because of their convenience. Protein supplementation is an easy way to add balance to meals and snacks without much prep work. Teenagers should eat something with protein at every meal and snack. If needs are hard to meet through food alone, protein supplementation may be recommended.
Teenagers will likely be fine using protein supplements occasionally if they are getting the majority of their protein from real food sources, have checked with a doctor to make sure it is appropriate for them to supplement, and choose a safe and high quality supplement without unnecessary ingredients, artificial sweeteners, and fillers.
See my protein recommendations below and read more here: Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? Here’s What Dietitians Recommend
Types of Protein Supplements
Most protein supplements are made from milk protein. Whey is one of the most common types of protein found in supplements. The market for plant-based protein drinks is also expanding with the rise in milk allergies and intolerances. If you choose a plant-based protein drink, I recommend choosing one without soy protein.
Protein supplements can be used in a variety of ways. Here are just a few:
- Pre-packaged protein drinks are a convenient way to drink your protein
- Protein powder alone can be mixed into milk (which will provide a bit more protein), water, milk-alternatives, or other drinkable liquid.
- Protein powder can be added to smoothies to provide extra protein, but still get a good amount of whole foods
- Protein powder can be added to foods like oatmeal or sauces if needed
- Protein bars without a lot of added sugar and saturated fat can be a great on-the-go protein sources
Supplement Recommendations From a Registered Dietitian
Always check with a doctor before using any kind of supplement. This is especially important for growing teens. Listed below are a few high quality supplement recommendations from a dietitian if a protein supplement is appropriate for you. Click to view on Amazon:
- Orgain Clean Protein: Organic, high quality ingredients make this one of my favorite supplements to recommend. They have pre-made whey-based drinks as well as whey protein powder. They also have plant-based vegan options (soy free!) They make Orgain Kids Protein that is specifically designed for kids. It has a lower protein content, so that could be used according to individual needs.
- PB Fit is a protein powder made up of just peanuts. It is also gluten-free and dairy-free. It is similar to peanut butter, but with less sugar and fat. This can be a great option to add to oatmeal and smoothies for a peanut butter flavor.
- Earthshake Organic Kids is another protein powder specifically made for kids. It has a lower protein content and could be used to add a bit more protein to meals that already have some protein in it. It does contain non-nutritive sweeteners, which isn’t my favorite thing to recommend.
- Carnation Breakfast Essentials is not a protein drink, but can be added to milk to give a bit more protein and other nutrients. This can actually be a great pre-workout snack since it also has carbohydrates for energy. The regular powder has 13 grams of protein, and they also offer a high protein option with 18 grams.
Some parents love Pediasure, which I don’t typically recommend because it’s too sweet and sugary.
Food Sources of Protein
Real food should always be a priority over supplements. Teens should develop a healthy relationship with all foods at an early age, rather than always needing to rely on supplements to meet their needs.
There are a wide variety of foods with high protein content. The table below from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows some examples of high protein foods:
Here are a few easy meal and snack ideas that will give you between 15-30 grams of protein:
- Smoothie with peanut butter, chia seeds, frozen banana, milk
- Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
- Crackers with ham and cheese
- Quesadilla with shredded chicken, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, salsa
- Toast with almond butter, an orange, chocolate milk
- Egg sandwich with 2 fried eggs, a slice of cheese, and fruit on the side
- Salmon with rice and broccoli
- Burrito bowl with rice, lettuce, black beans, cheese, avocado, onion, fresh tomatoes
- Turkey sandwich with cheese, lettuce, and tomato
- Scrambled tofu with veggies and quinoa
- Smoothie with greek yogurt, berries, lime juice, milk
- Nachos with shredded chicken, black beans, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole
Although food should be the first priority for getting nutrients, high quality, safe protein supplements can have a place. Check with a doctor before starting on a supplement, since some can be very harmful.
It is so important for teens to be aware of what they are putting in their body. Teens should practice mindful eating techniques to really be able to tune in to what their body needs and what makes them feel their best.
Can a 14 Year Old Have Protein Powder? It is best to get protein from food sources first before turning to protein supplements. Many protein powders are unsafe for teenagers, however, a 14-year old may benefit from the occasional protein powder as long as it is from a third-party tested, reputable company and contains no additional fillers and ingredients. Check with your doctor before starting any protein supplements.
Is it Okay for a Teenager to Drink Protein Shakes? Teenagers do not need protein shakes, a homemade protein smoothie made with Greek yogurt, nut butter, oats, seeds, milk or nut milk, and frozen fruit and veggies will have more protein than most protein shakes, plus it will be a lot healthier for a growing teenager.
What Age Can You Take Protein Supplements? It’s best to wait until age 18 or 19 to take protein supplements, when a teenager is done growing. Check with your healthcare provider if you believe you may benefit from protein supplements before age 18. Many supplements are not safe for adolescents.
- Is It Okay for a Teenager to Drink Protein Shakes
- Dietitian Recommended Protein and Energy Bars for Teens
- Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? Here’s What Dietitians Recommend
- Can a 15-Year Old Take Supplements?
- What is Overweight for a 14-year Old?
Castle J. How Teen Athletes Can Build Muscle with Protein. Eatright.org Published July 21, 2020.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Protein Foods. Myplate.gov. Based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.
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