School sport has become so competitive these days, nothing like I remember it to be in my time (which really wasn’t that long ago… wink, wink). Our children’s schools are adding to their arsenals with high performance sports centers, their own biokineticists and physiotherapists. All in an endeavour to boast they have the fastest, strongest and leanest athletes around.
Unfortunately, with this added pressure on our youngsters, parents are often faced with requests for nutritional supplements from our kids. Sometimes it’s to compete with their peers, while other times t’s recommended by a coach, who may have no formal nutritional education when it comes to young teens.
A favourite amongst teens today is the protein supplement, which contains high levels of protein and usually low levels of carbohydrates and fats. Protein supplements are intended to assist with muscle growth, recovery and overall athletic performance. Protein contains amino acids, the building blocks of muscle and other tissues in your body.
Protein Supplement Considerations for Teens Under the Age of 16
Although there certainly is a place for the use of sports supplements, supplementing protein in teens under the age of 16 years is a really bad idea, and these are some of the reasons why:
- Disruption of creatine production
- Stomach cramps
- Compromised bone strength
- Kidney stones
Creatine is an amino acid believed to enhance athletic performance and is commonly found in protein supplements. A study done by the University of Maryland Medical Centre found that supplementation of creatine could interfere with your own body’s production of the amino acid. In other words, your body could become reliant on creatine supplements and stop producing its own.
The most common type of protein used in protein supplements is whey protein, which is derived from dairy products. Whey protein contains lactose, a naturally-occurring sugar found in dairy.
Lactose is difficult for some people to digest, due to a condition known as lactose intolerance. The Centre for Young Women’s Health notes that lactose intolerance triggers a number of unpleasant side-effects, such as stomach cramps.
Over-use of protein supplements can cause your blood to have an acidic pH. According to Project Swole, your body will release extra calcium into your blood stream in an effort to restore normal blood pH levels. Unfortunately, this calcium comes from your bones, and as we know, a lack of calcium leads to weak bones. This is particularly dangerous for your developing teen, whose bones are still growing.
The extra calcium released by your body to restore normal pH levels is transported to your kidneys, where it awaits excretion in your urine. If there is too much calcium in your kidneys, you run the risk of calcium build-up which results in kidney stones. These can cause huge amounts of discomfort, and are oh, so painful when they pass out of your body!
So now that you’ve got the science of it, the question remains: does my healthy teenager need protein supplements for competitive sport? And the answer is a clear NO!
The recommended protein intake for the average teenager is between 40g and 60g daily, which they are more than likely getting from their diet.
Homemade Recipe for Natural Protein
So what do you do if your teenager is nagging you for protein supplements?
Try offering your teenager a home-made protein smoothie:
- 150ml plain yoghurt or milk (preferably full-fat)
- 10ml peanut butter / any other nut butter
- half a banana
- 5ml cocoa powder
- ice cubes
I know it’s not easy trying to reason with a teen who has his own ideas, and is succumbing to peer pressure. Educate your teen on the benefits of a wholesome, healthy diet and the dangers of supplementing with extra nutrients his body may not need, or be able to digest properly.