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Power or Pitfall? The Truth About Protein Supplements and Kids

Are protein snacks or supplements safe for kids?  Anna Tuttle, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC discusses the real effects additional protein has on a child's body.
Power or Pitfall? The Truth About Protein Supplements and Kids
Anna Tuttle, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC
Anna Tuttle, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC is a Clinical Dietitian at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital.

Bill Klaproth: Protein powders, bars and other supplements are popular diet items marked as healthy, helpful and muscle building. There are supplements labeled as being made for kids to help round out a picky eater’s diet. But are these claims true? Hmm. Well, we're here with Le Bonheur Clinical Dietician, Anna Tuttle, to discuss the real effects additional protein has on a child's body. This is The Peds Pod by Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. I'm Bill Klaproth. Anna, thanks so much for joining us. So there are so many candy bar type protein bars out there. Is the extra protein safe for kids?

Anna Tuttle: Well, a lot of these protein bars are geared more towards adults who might be making some changes in their diet to help with weight loss or even weight gain to build muscle, for the most part of the children don't need these protein bars because they can have up to about 20 to 30 grams of protein per bar, which is a lot for kids. And that's definitely more than most kids eat in a sack. Or some kids, if they're younger and smaller, that's more than they need in a full day.

Host: So how do you know the right amount of protein, how much protein is too much?

Anna Tuttle: Well, that can really change based on age and gender and sometimes even weight. But the general guidelines are a child who's one to three years old, needs about 13 grams of protein, someone who is four to eight years old needs about 19 grams and of course it increases as we get older. So a nine to 18 year old needs about 35 to 50 grams per day, with the 50 grams being more towards the male end. And the 35 grams being more towards females, but a child, if they're consuming a balanced diet, especially with regular intake of cow’s milk and other protein rich foods like meat, cheese, eggs, yogurt, etcetera, those protein goals can be easily met.

Host: Okay, so that's good to know. Protein goals can be easily met if you have a nice, well balanced diet. But then what happens if I have a picky eater who won't eat meat, eggs, things like that. Would a protein shake or bar be appropriate to supplement with?

Anna Tuttle: That's a great question because that's a concern for a lot of parents because picky eating is very common in young children. Once they start having more say in what they're doing, they say they don't want certain foods. And my own kids are even picky eaters. So I understand that concern. But many people don't think about the different protein sources that aren't animal-based. It can be found in basic like white flour that you use for baking. Some fruits, vegetables, nuts and nut butters. So for example, a serving of goldfish, which is a popular kid snack has three grams or protein. A banana, depending on size, can have one to two grams or protein. So even if somebody is a picky eater, they're probably still meeting those protein needs.

Host: So then what about teenagers who are athletes? Is extra protein appropriate then?

Anna Tuttle: Yes, most likely. It's really for those teenage athletes because they already need a little bit of extra protein because they're growing very rapidly at that age. But also the physical domain that their sport can require some more protein. But that can also, the protein needs can vary depending on their gender. The type of sport they're playing if we're playing multiple sports. Also like how long and frequent their training. So it's hard to give a blanket statement about how much protein they need. But I would say to anyone that rather than focusing on a supplement, let's go more towards the whole foods like eating a well balanced snack that includes two different food groups, like having a banana with peanut butter or cheese with crackers like before and after practice to help get that extra protein in.

Host: So the real food option is the best option. But for someone that does take a protein bar or a shake, are there types of protein bars or shakes that are safer than others for kids?

Anna Tuttle: Yes, yes there are, you can probably see those and just the regular grocery store aisle where the bars are found, a lot of just regular name brands now have kid versions. And for the most part those range in protein from like three to six grams per bar or shake. And so that's fine for most children, just as a frame of reference, an eight ounce glass of cow's milk has about eight grams of protein, but I would recommend this thing with one of only one of these bars or shakes per day. So we don't start relying on them because I'd like to rely more on whole foods and those supplements.

Host: Right. That's a good guideline. And then are there any types of protein supplement that should be avoided by kids?

Anna Tuttle: Well, like we talked about earlier, those different candy bar type protein bars that are 20 to 30 grams of protein. So definitely be avoided for kids and any of those excessive supplements that you can find in the nutrition stores. I would avoid for the time being and really focus on just getting those proteins in with a real foods.

Host: Makes sense. Well this has really been informative. Anna, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Anna Tuttle: All right, thank you for having me.

Host: That's Anna Tuttle, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital Genetic Counselor, and to learn more, visit And be sure to subscribe to The Peds Pod in Apple podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can also check out to view our full podcast library. And if you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels. This is The Peds Pod by Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. Thanks for listening.