If your family’s busy schedule makes eating whole, natural foods difficult, or if your teenager is asking you to buy protein powder and you’re clueless as to where to start, then this post is for you.

You’re here to discover if protein shakes are safe (healthy even) for teenagers.

Unfortunately, much of the information you find online about nutritional supplements come from the people who are also trying to sell you those supplements. If that doesn’t put your consumer spidey senses on high alert, I’m not sure what will.

As I write this, I haven’t sold any food/supplement beyond selling chocolate covered almonds to raise money for my school when I was a kid. For full disclosure, I do coach nutrition to high school athletes.

What’s the point?

Protein is used all throughout the body, most notably in the muscles to help create movement.

A lack of protein results in decreased athletic performance and decreased health.

After sitting down with a number of teenage athletes to talk food, it’s clear that protein intake is inadequate, and robbing them of performance on the field.

…enter the supplement industry to save the day! But the first question we need to ask is:

Are Protein Shakes Safe For Teenagers?

Yes. Protein shakes are safe for teenagers…if you choose wisely. The flashier the package, and the bigger the promise it makes, the bigger the chance that there is something unwanted inside.

pre workout

As an aside, the ‘mega-ultra-super-pump’ with a bunch of stimulants for your pre-workout is a separate discussion from a powdered protein. 

Whey (and casein) protein comes from milk. If you are ok giving your teenager milk, then protein shakes are completely safe!

Obviously there are millions of products, and I can’t say that all of them are safe. The hesitation I have with many supplements is not with the protein…but with all the additional additives.

 

My Little Man enjoying a protein smoothie on a hot day!

My little man enjoying a protein smoothie on a hot day!

I personally buy a basic whey protein from the Langley Costco and have no problem mixing it into a smoothie for my two year old. It’s been super hot here in the Fraser Valley, so a frozen fruit smoothie treat was just perfect after play time outside 🙂

With the addition of vanilla protein powder, it served as a whole meal!

Are protein shakes healthy?

I’m a huge fan of eating whole foods. Anyone who has looked through my Athletic Meal Guide will attest to this.

One thing you will notice is that I do include whey protein under the 21 Superfoods list included with that report….here’s why:

The families of the athletes I coach are incredibly busy, and eating enough protein necessary for health and performance won’t happen by accident.

Without a concerted effort, most young athletes aren’t going to meet their protein intake for optimal performance. Yes, it would be great if all your protein came from steak, chicken, and other quality meats. Judging from history, that doesn’t often happen.

Protein powder is a very convenient way to obtain your daily protein requirement.

A good protein powder can improve health and boost performance (and you can carry it in your gym bag without worrying about it going bad before the end of the day!)

Choosing a whey protein shake:

Barring a milk allergy, choose whey protein over soy or other options.
Most of the added bonus stuff in protein powders is marketing hype. I always have liked the 100% whey protein from Costco or Superstore. (The chocolate tastes better on its own, but the vanilla is easier to mix into smoothies, etc.)
Some protein powders have a bunch of sugars added to them, which can be helpful or harmful depending on the intended purpose for using them (see the different types below).
In general, there are really two different types of protein shakes that are useful.

Protein Shake Type 1: When your meal lacks a quality protein

If your meal lacks a quality protein, a powdered version can be just the answer. Look for something that is almost completely protein.
The ones that are pure whey/casein without any added sugar are what you are looking for. These are great for adding protein to a meal that is lacking, or ensuring that you get enough protein into your diet throughout the day.

Protein Shake Type 2: As a post workout recovery shake

The second type of protein shake that is beneficial is the mid-workout/post-workout protein shake. It contains a lot of sugar which makes it ideal for restoring energy stores, but makes it a poor choice for outside that window.
Since the sugars are put to use in the body immediately, much of the drawbacks associated with sugary drinks are negated.
Look for something with about 3 grams of carbohydrates for every 1 gram of protein. It should have whey or BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) as the basis for the protein.
Obviously, the ones with the extra sugar are going to be tastier, so if you really dislike the unsweetened ones, then I would stick with drinking nature’s protein shake…milk.

A parting thought:

Supplements and Showering
Don’t let protein powder and other supplements be your excuse for eating poorly. They are super useful, and protein shakes are very safe…but they must compliment a well balanced diet and training program if they are to be of any use.
A great place to start with healthy nutrition is by eating proteins from a variety of sources like those listed in my 21 Superfoods guide below.

More…

If you haven’t downloaded it already, I highly recommend that you check out my 21 Superfoods and Athletic Meal guide which you can download instantly below: