Protein powders line the shelves just about anywhere groceries are sold – from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to conventional supermarket chains – not to mention the countless choices on line. Can they work for kids? Do your kids need protein powders? Are they safe? Yes, maybe, and that depends. Here’s the scoop on knowing which ones to use, how, and when.
Do protein powders work? Protein powders can help your child grow and gain better, behave and function better, and fight infection better, but only when they are needed. In my pediatric nutrition practice, I have witnessed impressive improvements for children when these are used in the right circumstance. They do work if your kid needs the extra protein support, if they are used consistently (daily for weeks at least), and if you match your kid’s nutrition needs to what the protein powder offers. Plenty of kids I’ve helped have poor appetites and can’t/won’t/don’t eat the protein they actually need every day; others are so entrenched in a failed growth pattern that they need more-than-usual amounts of protein to catch up. In those cases, protein powders are a good helper.
But…protein powders don’t work if your kids refuse them, if you pick the wrong protein powder for your child’s needs, if your child doesn’t need it at all (but needs a different nutrition fix), or if you use the wrong amounts (too much or too little can backfire).
Many parents ask me for a protein powder recommendation because their kids aren’t growing well. Protein powders only fix that problem if the child doesn’t eat enough protein. There are other reasons why growth can falter – and if protein intake or absorption isn’t among them in your child’s case, then a protein powder won’t help. In fact, too much protein at the expense of healthy carbs and starches in a child’s diet can cause stunting, and I have witnessed this many times.
Used incorrectly, extra protein can cause more trouble for kids. I have seen this occur in my pediatric nutrition practice when doctors place children in growth failure on products like Pediasure, Boost, Muscle Milk, or Ensure. It’s not unusual for a milk protein allergy to be underneath the growth and feeding problems, but this is often overlooked. The doctor won’t have screened for allergies or sensitivities first, before telling a family to rely on these milk protein based formulas. What happens next is frustrating: Weeks, months and even years are wasted as the child continues to struggle with poor growth, low vitality, frequent infections, and the inevitable mood and focus problems. Pediasure, Boost, Muscle Milk, and Ensure are based on milk protein – which can worsen growth, feeding, and progress if there is an undiagnosed milk protein allergy. Knowing what type of protein (soy? dairy? egg? hemp? pea? amino acids? meats? poultry? fish? nuts/seeds?) your child can use is important. I assess this with thorough food antibody testing.
If your child doesn’t need it, a protein powder won’t add nutritional value, and may not be worth the extra cost – unless your kids just like the stuff and it gives them a fun option to have a daily smoothie boost. In that case, all good! Use it to pack in fresh fruits, veggies, or even fresh herbs like basil, ginger root or mint leaves – all of which add phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory support.
Kids who eat a varied diet with plenty of protein sources probably don’t need a protein powder. “Varied” means eating more than just one kind of protein. It means your child gets protein from different foods every day, like eggs, green beans, peas, other legumes, beans, meats, poultry, nuts, seeds, or grains like rice paired with beans, organic corn, buckwheat, amaranth, whole organic wheat, and so on.
In contrast, kids who only eat dairy and wheat protein (yogurt, milk, cheese, mac and cheese, crackers, cookies, bread, pasta, pizza) often do not get an adequate diet. They may be overfed or growing like gangbusters – but they are malnourished for minerals, vitamins, diverse proteins, and essential fats. This definitely impairs functioning in kids. Even when they eat enough total protein daily, if it’s from just one type of food, they can easily suffer nutrition deficits. A protein powder may help, but emphasis here would be needed on diversity and on those micronutrients too.
How much protein is enough? School age kids who are healthy and growing normally need a bit more than half their weight daily, in grams of protein. So, a child weighing 70 pounds needs at least 40-50 grams of high value protein every day, spread through out the day. Growth failure, allergies, frequent illness, inflammatory conditions, activity levels (think high intensity sports), and injuries change protein needs. Getting professional guidance will assure your child gets the best food for his or her best health and ability potential.
When do kids need protein supplements? If kids are functioning well and growing and gaining weight, they probably don’t need a protein powder. Functioning well means they can grow as expected (they don’t drop more than fifteen percentile points on a growth chart for weight or height). It also means they can do important things like sleep soundly and wake rested, play energetically, behave in age-appropriate ways, pay attention and focus appropriately for age, fight off usual infections without complications or long courses of illness, have few infections, and have fun. If your kid struggles in any of these areas more than you think is their “normal”, or if you just have a hunch something is off kilter, the right protein support may make a huge difference.
Check this list of reasons to consider protein powders for kids. Does your toddler, child, or teen fit any of these?
- Doesn’t eat protein-rich food like meat, fish, eggs, mixed bean/rice/legume/corn dishes, nuts and seeds or their butters – for any reason (texture aversions, gagging or spits our meats, eggs, ground meats, mixed dishes like chili or stews with meats, allergies)
- Has a picky appetite that relies mostly on dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk products) and wheat (bagels, pasta, bread, pizza, crackers, pretzels, starchy baked treats or granola bars)
- Has food allergies, sensitivities, or any reactions that limit access to proteins (can’t eat dairy, egg, nuts, gluten, etc)
- Has a history of growth failure or slow growth pattern, is shorter than expected, or has been called “just small” by your doctor
- Has anxiety, poor sleep, night terrors, frequent waking, mood disorders, or conduct disorders
- Lost a school placement due to disruptive behavior
- Gets colds, bugs, sniffy nose often, and takes longer than siblings or friends to shake it off
- Has hair that looks thin, lacking in color, dull, or has no shine to it
- Nails crack and peel easily
- Cuts seem to heal more slowly than usual
The right protein support has potential to resolve all of these problems. Other cases may need deeper and more comprehensive nutrition overhaul (such as kids who have low protein, poor total intake, and are deep into an oppositional, aggressive, or ADHD pattern). But starting with strong protein may be a quick test to get your child feeling better.
OK – Trying a protein powder for your kids? Know This 👇🏽
Protein powders come from animal and plant sources. Animal sources are whey, egg, egg shell membrane, collagen (which can come from livestock animals, fish, chicken, or egg shells), or bone broth collagen. Plant-based protein powders abound too, which can work for vegetarian or vegan diets. Plant sourced protein powders are derived from many foods including soy, pea, coconut, pumpkin seed, rice protein concentrate, peanut, or other nuts and seeds. Any protein powder can be had plain, flavored, sweetened, unsweetened, or with or without myriad other functional ingredients like vitamins, minerals, or herb extracts.
But know this: Making protein powders can be a dirty business. To get collagen out of animals and turn it into your daily protein powder smoothie boost, animal by-products (skin, hide, bones, joints, cartilage, tendons, scales from fish, connective tissue) are boiled down into gelatin. This is hydrolyzed enzymatically into smaller protein fragments called peptides, which we can readily absorb. Most beef collagen peptides come from discarded cattle hide, which may have already been treated heavily with acid, sulfides, chromium, bleach and other chemicals before processing into collagen peptides. Bone broth collagen peptides may be less contaminated with the soaking agents used on hides, but intensive factory farming practices can concentrate heavy metals in animals’ bones too. Plant protein powders are problematic for the same reason – contaminated soils will see toxins taken up by plants, which in turn fix them into the plant tissue, and then these become concentrated in protein powders.
Enter the Clean Label Project, which recently tested several plant and animal protein powders for contaminants. You can read their full findings here. Arsenic, chromium, cadmium, lead and mercury have been found in most protein powders to different degrees, whether they are plant or animal based. These metals target fatty tissues like liver, brain, nerve tissue and kidney, and can take years to be excreted from the body, if they are at all. This is why small doses on the regular can be so troublesome! Though no one collagen powder in the chart below exceeded unsafe levels of metals in a serving (good news), this becomes problematic when more than one serving is used daily or when these are eaten daily for long periods of time – which is how protein powders work best when they are needed!
The Clean Label Project chose BioOptimal Unflavored Collagen, NeoCell Super Collagen, and Puori CP1 Pure Collagen Peptides as their top cleanest picks for collagen protein powders.
Plant protein powders can contain metals, mycotoxins, pesticides, BPA, and other toxins – read the full Clean Label Project report here on plant protein powders. Either way, look for full commitment to clean production and processing, and third party testing for heavy metals and other toxins. Avoid products from plants and animals sourced in China, where agricultural contaminants are even less regulated than they are in the US.
And here’s a twist: Organic plant protein powders had even more toxic heavy metals in them than non-organic, which researchers attribute to the powders being plant based rather than organic. Meanwhile, organics had much less cancer-causing BPAs. The Consumer Reports synopsis – including which powders were best and worst – can be found here. Overall, the worst findings were in mostly plant based protein powders, while a few bands of whey and egg protein powders proved cleanest.
Whey Protein Powders – Whey protein powders were among the cleanest reviewed. But what is whey anyway?
Whey is one of the proteins in milk. About 20% of the protein in cow’s milk is whey, while 80% is casein. You’ve probably seen those giant tubs of whey on store shelves, with muscles all over the label, to appeal to body builders. Skip those. They usually have other ingredients your child doesn’t need (especially sugar, or minerals and vitamins at excessive potencies) and they don’t test well for toxins and metals.
Look for organic, unsweetened whey protein powder and mix it with cold or warm foods, or add it to baking recipes. It blends well in smoothies and adds a pleasant fluffy texture. Whey protein – with its good amino acid profile and immunoglobulins – has strong evidence for helping muscle mass and immune function. Babies and kids who don’t do well with casein may do fine with whey, but not always. Blood tests can discern this, when elimination diets are too cumbersome or time consuming to work through.
Whey protein is where nature puts the immune power pack, when it comes to milk. For whey content, human milk is nearly opposite of cow’s milk: We make milk with only about 40% casein, but 60% whey. Whey has lactalbumin, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin, and other immunoglobulins that fight infection and build immune strength. These cysteine-rich proteins are also excellent glutathione precursors. Glutathione is our go-to molecule to remove toxins, reduce inflammation, and support vigorous immunity. Buying whey that is not denatured ensures that these delicate but potent proteins stay viable. Denatured proteins are proteins that are heated or processed so much, they lose their original shape – and, their original actions as immune modulators. They may also become more allergenic, since their shapes differ from what the body may be able to digest. For my patients, I like Well Wisdom Vital Whey Protein from grass fed, non-GMO milk. It ticks all the boxes for a clean, high purity product that leaves those delicate but powerful immunoglobulins in tact:
- cold processed
- whey concentrate versus isolate, to include some of the natural fats and lactose (choose isolate if you want to avoid lactose)
- tested for heavy metals
- hormone free
- grass-fed and organic
Soy Protein Powders – Whether it’s in a power bar, a powder, infant formula, or a protein boosted juice drink, I’m not a fan. Soy in the US is overwhelmingly genetically modified. GMO foods are not allowed for human consumption in most the developed world. They are under scrutiny for causing more allergy and many other ill health effects. Soy crops may also concentrate glyphosate, the pesticide recently dubbed “probably” carcinogenic by the World Health Organization. The high levels of herbicide glyphosate that GMO crops are engineered to withstand stays in the food you eat, and injures the helpful gut bacteria that humans depend on for digestion, immune function, and protective barrier for invasive microbes. Soy is also a potent phytoestrogen, so if you’re not a post-menopausal woman (and even if you are) it isn’t a protein powder you should be eating every day.
There are so many reasons why I don’t like concentrated processed GMO soy protein, especially for babies, who are busy developing a healthy gut biome in their first years (glyphosate kills healthy gut bacteria in humans). Healthy gut flora are critical for preventing allergy, asthma, and other vulnerabilities later in childhood or even later in life. Eating food crops engineered to produce their own glyphosate (which is what GMO food crops do) is perhaps one of the most devastating thing we can do to a baby human gut!
More reasons I don’t like soy protein supplements: Unfermented, highly processed, and concentrated soy protein is hard to digest, can bind other nutrients, disrupts thyroid and estrogen function, and may trigger allergy just as often as casein from cow’s milk. I don’t recommend it as daily protein for kids. Eaten from an organic source, in small amounts, in its natural state or fermented, such as in tempeh, miso, shoyu, tamari, or natto – this is fine, but your child will need other proteins. Tofu and edamame are not fermented, so I suggest using these in smaller amounts for children. I know opinions vary; this is my take, after nearly twenty years in practice with infants and children.
Rice Protein Powders – There are some issues here. Rice lacks lysine, an essential amino acid. That means that by itself, rice is not a good protein source (because humans must eat lysine; we can’t make it ourselves), so most manufacturers add lysine and possibly other amino acids to shore it up. If you prefer a rice protein powder, look for that lysine addition. But, even rice protein powders that say they are “concentrated” or raw and sprouted can’t match the amino acid profile of animal proteins like whey, meat, or eggs. Rice protein still must to be augmented with some amino acids to work, especially for kids needing a protein boost.
Next drawback: Rice protein powders are notoriously high for toxic heavy metals, especially arsenic. Organic farming methods may concentrate metals like this even more (a benefit for detoxifying soils, but not so much for daily consumption over long periods of time!).
Lastly, rice protein powders can feel gritty and have a strong taste (especially brown rice source). I’ve found that they are often rejected by kids with oral texture issues and picky appetites, where collagen and whey products can disappear more readily in liquids or soft foods.
If rice protein is still your choice, go with a product like this one that claims to monitor heavy metals and contaminants. It is the only vegan protein powder I have found that makes that claim. It also combines rice with pea protein for a more complete functional protein that adds lysine and arginine. Caveat: Kids with casein or soy sensitivity may not do well with pea protein concentrates, but it’s worth a try.
Hemp Protein – Helpful for kids who can’t manage other proteins due to sensitivity or allergy, but there are mixed reviews on whether it is enough of a boost for kids needing strong support, and again, on the heavy metal toxicity of this plant. How the hemp is grown and processed affects its amino acid profile and toxic load; some hemp protein products claim to have all amino acids essential to humans in them, some don’t. Hemp is rich for amino’s that help us make globulins, similar to proteins we make for immune function; other peptides in it may have beneficial antioxidant effects. Either way, two heaping tablespoons may only add 5-8 grams of protein, which is less than most other protein supplements. Hemp has more essential fats and more fiber than other protein powders, which is good and bad: Good for the nutrients (hens fed hemp seeds lay eggs with more healthy fats in them), but maybe too much texture for picky eaters who are used to smooth. Hemp protein powder is also dark green, so it won’t hide well in concoctions for kids who are averse to fruits or vegetables in their smoothies. There is a nice profile of minerals like magnesium and zinc in hemp protein powder, and it’s more digestible than soy. If your child is good with the texture of nuts and seeds, but has allergy to these, try whole hemp seeds in snacks instead. They’re tiny like sesame seeds, but soft and chewy, and can work in smoothies, granola, or sprinkled on salads. They can have a strong taste.
Spirulina and Blue Green Algae – Yes, it was used by the Aztecs centuries ago, when they harvested and dried spirulina from lakes in a then-pristine environment. How about now? It is a complete protein, also rich in vitamins and minerals, but falls somewhere between egg and lower value plant proteins for its amino acid profile. Because of this, more if it has to be eaten to get enough for the tissue re-build young kids need when struggling with protein intake and absorption (same problem as hemp protein on that score); this can trigger loose stools. Bonuses: Spirulina has shown some capacity to reduce histamine (less allergy); it has carotenoids in it that can promote eye health; and other phytochemicals in it may have protective effects against certain cancers. Many other health claims are out there for it, but these aren’t well studied in people. It’s decidedly green, and will add that color to anything you stir it into, which can once again really throw kids sensitized to texture or color changes in food. Whether or not blue green algae protein powder can be had today minus the pollutants and toxins everywhere in our environment (heavy metals, pesticides) is up to the manufacturer to monitor and declare (don’t wait for the FDA to do that for you!). Not to be confused with Spirutein, which is a soy protein concentrate mixed with some spirulina from algae; some Spirutein offerings also blend in pea and rice. Like any plant protein powder, commit to a product that tests for heavy metals and toxins like Nutrex Hawaii Spirulina.
Free Amino Acids – I’ve said “amino” a lot in this post!
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein molecules. Nature created about 22 of these amino building blocks, and we must eat a certain 8-11 of these every day from foods to survive, because we can’t make them ourselves. So, proteins are compared based on their amino acid profiles. Any protein will usually have all of the amino acids present in some amount. The question is, how much of each one? Proteins like egg are high in all of the essential amino’s that we have to eat. No plant proteins are, unless they are augmented or processed to boost their profiles, or unless you eat a lot of that one protein (as would be true for eating hemp or blue green algae proteins). Eating plant proteins with other plant proteins that fill in the missing amino’s for each other is how vegetarians and vegans eat well, and this is also how some of the protein supplement products out there are boosted – they’re paired up.
So what about eating free amino acids, instead of protein that must be broken down? You can do that too, and this can be a very good tool for kids with injured, inflamed, or delicate guts. Multiple food allergy children can benefit here too. I use free amino acid supplements often for these children. The FDA regulates these as “medical foods”, and you can buy them over the counter, as in a product like Thorne Amino Complex, or in specialized formulas, like Neocate, Elecare, or just as pharmaceutical grade amino acid powder. I have used all of the above with impressive results in infants, toddlers, and kids – with a total, integrated nutrition are plan in place. In some cases, free amino acids can be prescribed and covered on insurance.
Take away? Kids who have anything on my bullet list above need nutrition support, and the right protein powder may be a good strategy.
Hi! Thank you for this amazing blog. Our son is 3 yo. We are starting a GFCF diet on him since he lacks attention and does not socialize as it is expected for his age. He craves milk so bad but he eats all other food as well. I am trying to find a way to fortify almond or coconut milk for him. What would you recommend?
I often recommend a collagen protein, something like this. It’s unflavored, but comes in different flavors too. It has no sugar, which I prefer – flavored versions are sweetened with stevia. If you don’t like shopping on amazon, you can set up your own access to my dispensary and purchase there – look for an e mail from FullScript for details.
My son is 4yo and about 33.3 pounds and only 40 %in height. He’s had a hard time with gut issues all his life. He drank Neocate , then Kate’s farms. He stopped tolerating Kates, he eats a good variety of food but NO dairy, soy and gluten. Since we stopped Kates his growth has slowed down alot … what protein could be good for him since he does not tolerate pea, soy, whey? Also how many grams of protein to supplement
Hi Alexandra, I can’t tell you how many grams of protein to add daily without analyzing a food diary and more growth history. But I can say that at his age generally 45-50 grams of protein daily is adequate, under normal circumstances. If he does have a growth impairment – and to what degree, which I can’t tell from this info – then he may need more, and the other macronutrients will impact that too. If he is eating a very high protein, high fat, and low carb diet, then this can trigger stunting, even if he gets enough total calories. You can look to collagen sources (there are several types) and egg protein as well as fish, chicken, lamb, beef, lentils, navy beans, nuts/seeds and their butters, or combinations of grains and beans to round out protein.
HI there, I have a 15 year old boy who is borderline ADHD and has a small frame. We are looking into introducing a protein powder into his diet. He is allergic to all peas, lentils and possibly whey. Looking for a recommendation for a protein powder that can be used in a shake or used in baking. We have tried several that just don’t agree with him. Can you please recommend for a growing boy?
If your son is small, is this his expected growth pattern? Or has his growth pattern slid down the chart more than it should have? Believe it or not pediatricians rarely notice this, unless a child drops to the 5th percentile. But long before that point, a growth lag can wreak all sorts of havoc for kids, including worsened ADHD features. If he isn’t growing as expected, protein might not be the correct fix. His total diet needs review with a professional to identify why it isn’t working for him. If it is as simple as more protein, which is unlikely unless he eats starchy food all day and refuses food proteins, then try a grass fed collagen peptide powder. These are available plain unflavored, or flavored and sweetened with stevia (not cane sugar). They mix well, and the unflavored versions are truly tasteless. Meanwhile learn more about your son’s growth pattern here.
Hello I was looking into recommendations for my daughter she has symptoms of Inattentive ADHD ands reading into changing her diet a little by eliminating sugars from her diet. She is not an egg eater, so I was looking into getting her a Smoothie type of breakfast. I’m looking into a good protein powder to mix in that is healthy for children she is 7 years old.
Check out the plain unflavored organic grass fed collagen powders – they disappear readily into smoothies and you can make these any which way you want for flavor by adding fruits, cocoa, stevia, vanilla flavoring etc. You can also buy chocolate or vanilla flavored bone broth collagen under the Josh Axe brand. Stay away from pea protein, milk (casein and whey) protein, or soy protein boosters until you know for sure that those are not triggers for her immune system. You can buy egg protein powder which is great too, as long as it isn’t reactive for her – she doesn’t need to know that her smoothie protein comes from egg.
Hello my question is my grandson is 5yrs old.he eats nothing and its really strated to show he’s 30 lbs.what could I get him there’s not alot I can do because he doesn’t live with me or I would. He refuses everything except sugary foods.I have on hand gold standard 100% whey protein. No artificial growth hormones .could I give him this .thank you for your time
Hi Sharon, your grandson is in growth failure. This does need attention from a licensed health care professional, and your grandson’s pediatrician should be offering solutions. You can use whey protein if you like, but it isn’t likely to repair his growth in itself. The cause of his poor growth and gain needs correcting. I do work with this scenario if the parents would like more help.
My sons IgA level is 32 which is low. I’m not sure what that means. My pediatrician says it should not be cause for concern, however, I am concerned. He is low in weight and struggles with paying attention in school. He also had dark circles under his eyes, although he averages 9-10 hours of sleep a night. He has low energy and motivation to do much. He is 10 years old. Any thoughts or insights?
IgA is immunoglobulin A, which is a primary protector of epithelial tissues in the body (lining of nose, throat, lungs, and GI tract). It IS cause for concern if your child keeps getting sick – how often does he get colds, fever, flu, or ear infections? It may be common to get sick often but it is not normal or healthy. A healthy immune system doesn’t do that. The shiners are a clinical sign for allergy and/or weak iron status, and either can relate to getting sick often. He should have a full iron study (ferritin, CBC, serum iron, transferrin, TIBC, % saturation) as well as nutrition assessment to be sure he is eating/absorbing what he needs to help his immune system work.
My 9 years old twins are quite short for their age(125cm). No growth hormone deficiency or any underlying health issue as far as we know. They eat relatively healthy and do lots of exercise. They don’t really like dairy product,we have switched to oat milk.
I’d like to try to give them whey protein with arginine but not sure about the ratio. I think it’s about 12g whey and 0.35g arginine.
If you could advice what kind of amino acid could help with their growth (included dosage) that would be great.
I’m not able to give that level of individualized advice in this forum, but do provide that in my clinical practice, if you’d like specifics. I would identify the trigger for the stunting in your twin’s cases, and repair it based on findings. At this age, they need at least 50 grams protein daily from complete sources as well as adequate total calories to “protect” that protein – so it can be used for growth, and not as an energy source to run their metabolisms. Arginine by itself won’t do much good if their total diets are otherwise lacking – the arginine will simply be pulled apart for its carbon skeleton, which will be burned for energy.
Hello! Great article! My son is 10, 5’1″ and about 90lbs. He recently had a palette expander put on and in a few months will be getting braces but I have noticed a significant change in his diet due to the appliance. He has lost about 8 pounds in the past 3 months since it was put on and is incredibly skinny (hip and rib bones are way more visible than they used to be). He is lactose sensitive and has IBS issues. I currently drink a whey based protein shake and would like to get him on something similar to increase his caloric intake. What would you recommend? His daily diet is pretty much soft meats (hamburger or chicken) and mashed veggies (broccoli, potato, green beans or corn) He is not really a fan of pasta or rice. Thanks for your time!
Hi Kaysie, an 8 lb loss is dramatic for a 10 year old, and suggests more than just protein may be needed, especially in the context of active IBS. Something is awry beyond the appliance (which didn’t help food intake, from the sound of it!). The repair for weight loss is carbs and fats, more than protein. Give ample fats (which you didn’t mention) like coconut whole milk (not carton, but canned), olive oil, ghee or butter, nut or seed butters, eggs, bacon, avocado, and skin on chicken. Also give him ample carbs. If he still needs more protein, which is something worth assessing professionally, then you can probably safely use a collagen option (Zint, Bulletproof) – but with the IBS active, an ELISA IgG panel is a smart move to identify what is wrong, as would be a functional stool culture.
my son is 11 and growing fast. Very picky eater and doesn’t eat alot of meats. Eats yogurt, cheese and some vegetables. Has been having trouble with focus in school lately and being tested for ADD. I truly think it has to do with his lack of protein. Any suggestions on what type to give him?
Hi Kim, if your son is picky and doesn’t vary his proteins much (likes a LOT of dairy food) then it’s possible that the dairy is part of his ADD presentation. You can screen for this if you like – see my blog on Top Ten Nutrition Fails That Trigger ADHD. Proper screening will also identify what proteins can work best for him, how much he might really need, and if he is meeting his needs. No quick pat answer here; just as is true for any other type of health care, your best bet is to work with a professional who can sort this for you before he is put on a stimulant medication. Remember, psychiatric medications don’t fix nutrition problems, but nutrition problems can trigger inattention and hyperactivity! If you’d like an appointment you can access my calendar here.
Hi Judy, my baby is 13 months, he was born with 3 pounds 12 oz. He has allergy to protein of the milk, so he is with alimentum (from similac), also he needs more calories so we made the milk more “concentrated”, he finally reached the charts P2, he has some troubles with his feeding (tongue movement and chewing) so he is in feeding therapy. He eats bottle 5 times a day and spoon feeding 2-3 times a day, but not to much food, so I want to increase his protein intake with some protein powder. what do you recommend to me?
Hello Catalina, I’d recommend reviewing his total food and protein intake with a dietitian/nutritionist locally, via referral from your pediatrician. As you are using concentrated formula already, it may not be wise to add more protein as a concentrated supplement. When infants and toddlers don’t get enough of other macronutrients (fats or carbs), they use protein less efficiently; this is stressful for liver and kidney tissue, and can ultimately impede a normal growth pattern. Get guidance on best overall diet for your son. I am happy to do this for you and routinely do this work in my practice for others, but if you can obtain this in your insurance network, all the better.
Judy, I have a son that is almost three. He weighs 22 lbs while his sister already weighs 18 lbs at just 10 months. My wife & I have been overwhelmed with trying to get our baby boy to gain weight. He is full of energy and very intelligent. His doctors see no other health concerns other than his weight, but I am constantly concerned because he is so small. He is around the 0.2% in weight & I also just found out that he is in the .8% for height. I didn’t realize that lack of protein can result in shortness until reading your article. We’ve been told that he is likely “just small” because his parents are small, but my senses as a parent still tell me to be concerned (especially since my 10 month old has caught up and has the same genes). A friend recommended “Orgain Organic Plant Based Protein Powder,” which has helped her son, but before trying it I wanted a professional opinion. Your article has taught me that every child is different & I don’t want to try something just because it worked for someone else’s child. I am also now wondering if I should try organic plant based protein or grass fed whey protein (both Orgain brand).
To provide more background, we got off to a bad start by using soy infant formula when he was young. He didn’t do well with breast milk or regular formula so the docs recommended trying a dif. formula. I think had we been more knowledgeable and tried harder he would have done fine with normal formula. Even with the soy formula he didn’t eat much. It took forever to get him above 15 lbs. Around 1yr old the doctor recommended pediasure which he would not even put his mouth to w/o throwing up. Currently he just seems to be a picky eater. He loves chocolate milk so we’ve been trying breakfast essentials powder in milk to add extra protein, he likes it, but it hasn’t helped yet.
I would appreciate any insight you have into my son’s particular situation. Thank you!
Hi Zach, I can’t offer insights or clinical strategy on individual nutrition care plans in this forum. I wouldn’t know what protein powders to suggest without lab data, especially for a child as slow to gain as your son. Clearly there are entrenched issues that are untreated, from a gut health and nutrition perspective. If you’d like help, please feel free to schedule an appointment with me anytime. This can be in person, via Skype, or phone.
Hi, our family is vegetarian and I’m a little concerned about my 22 month old’s protein intake. I was researching pea protein for toddlers when I came across your page. He has always been above 50th percentile for height but has slowly dropped percentile on weight, now he’s in the 20th. He is ahead in development but his hair and nails have always been very thin. He is still breast fed and he drinks 2-4 oz of whole milk kefir in the morning. We try to eat plant based Whole Foods and do eat wild caught salmon once a week along with tempeh, mycoprotein meat substitutes, beans, and nuts. He is great at eating a variety but may only take one or two bites of any one thing sometimes. I also give him a plant based multivitamin to fill b12 gaps. Would you reccomend a small amount of pea protein, spirulina, or even collagen in his kefir? Thanks
Kids at this age need at least 30-35 grams high quality protein daily, when they are growing normally. When they are not, they may need more. I don’t know what to recommend in your case without knowing more history. It’s good to include the variety of proteins that you are. If his weight is dropping but height is staying steady, this indicates his total food intake is probably too low – eg, he needs more calories from dense healthy carbs and varied fats to fuel progress for weight.
I would appreciate a recommendation for a child that is gluten and dairy free. She is 5.5 years old and weighs 41 pounds. She only likes vanilla flavor.
Hi Krista, I don’t know what to recommend for your daughter without knowing her full history and if there are other undiagnosed protein sensitivities, whether or not she can have whey, egg, pea, soy, or if she needs a free amino acid powder. That said, there are many vanilla flavored products if you are looking for a protein powder. You can visit a site like Emerson Ecologics and search protein powders for ideas. In addition to what is there you might like checking out the new collagen and bone broth protein products from Josh Axe that are available in vanilla or chocolate with stevia sweetener (not sugar). Avoid products with a lot of added sugar as these create other problems.
Hi i have 4 year old daughter who has non verbal autism. She has alot of self injurious behaviour and wakes often at night time as if in terrible pain. We had been advised to remove dairy and gluten from her diet as that is basically all she eats. Her bowels were quite runny or constipated. We are slowly introducing smoothies and we have her on a few types with fruits and veg but we are looking for a gluten free protein powder as her protein is quite minimal due to food aversions. The protein she had been on had been a whey protein porridge but we want to change her to one that is more easily digestible. Any help greatly appreciated 🙂
This is a typical scenario for a child with autism who desperately needs nutrition intervention – I’m glad you’ve gotten started. Exactly what protein replacement is best for her is best determined by lab study. You can use an elemental powdered source such as Pure Encapsulations Amino Replete but this should have medical or dietitian oversight. You will see much faster improvement if she replaces whey protein – this is a dairy protein. It isn’t casein, but in my experience, kids like your daughter need the total and strict dairy (and gluten, and soy) avoidance. Please pick up a copy of this book – it is written for your situation precisely! Save yourself time, money, and mistakes. Also: If she is in pain at night due to a GI condition (also very common with the symptoms you describe) please consider making an appointment with me so this can be professionally evaluated. This is not a behavioral issue, it is a physical pain issue and there are solutions.
Thank you so much. We actually live in Ireland but do visit the USA often as we have family in CT.
We may actually get out to you if we have no answers on the pain at night. Thank you again so much for your help.
No need to come see me Karen, I work with families remotely quite often, and have a number of families in Europe with whom I Skype for consults. If you have local MD oversight and I have the history and background I need, then you’re good to go.
Are you familiar with isagenix? Is there protein powder and meal replacements safe for kids…(7 years old and occasionally 2.5?) after reading this article and some issues we are having I’m thinking it could be lack of protein.
I am a grandparent looking to getsound infor on Protein for kids,Non-diary-no soy & no gassy type ingredients & is it safe,what are the suggested top4 Protein supplements available, downsides,how much,& for how long, particularly as it relates to children with Crohns! It’s difficult enough to get ANY Specific info on this subject such as supplements, menu, diet, muscle/bone weakness, protein, play activities & sports, improving their overall drop in activity & motivation etc for kids with Crohns! Any legitimate info would be helpful.
You are a good grandparent – glad you are involved! Your request is a tall order for a forum like this. If you need specifics in this level of detail, especially for a child with a Crohn’s diagnosis, the best bet for this family is to book an appointment with me. I do have experience with Crohn’s disease in youngsters, special diets, supplements, and tools to minimize symptoms while promoting strength and energy. Don’t settle for web freebies for a situation like this – It isn’t reasonable to expect high level nutrition expertise for free, and it wouldn’t serve your grandchild anyway.
Sorry for the misunderstanding, I meant “little” as skinny. We did try to stimulate his appetite by giving him a treatment that he took for two weeks. It was basically an appetite stimulant recommended by his doctor, but that didn’t work either. He was still refusing to eat. Then, we saw the Occupational Therapist for two months and we also didn’t see any improvement. According to his doctor, he is not underweight but we are concerned that he is not consuming the right nutrients and supplements/vitamins.
Well in my experience, mom is usually right. And, pediatricians don’t typically have concerns until children drop all the way off the chart – this is very common, and it is mostly because they aren’t nutritionists and don’t have the tools to help! What next ensues is a GI referral, which usually delivers drugs like Miralax, reflux medicines, appetite stimulants, scoping, and ultimately, tube feeding for very underweight kids (often with formulas that don’t work well due to undiagnosed sensitivities, gut infections, or allergies). This is what I routinely witness in my practice. Why wait, and for more interventions that may be invasive or do little good? If you have a hunch some intervention is needed, there are many options with guided nutrition support. Anytime, set up a slot on my calendar and we can dive in.
Thank you for the article!
I have a two year old son that only eats certain fruits and diary products. What kind of protein supplement would you recommend? He is not underweight, but he is little. He refuses to eat veggies and meat products 🙁 I am so desperate and I get very frustrated because he can go a whole day with just a banana and a few crackers. I even took him to see an occupational therapists and we didn’t see any chances. Thank you for your help!!
Hmm what do you mean by “little”? This can mean that he is little because he has short, little parents; or it can mean he is malnourished and not growing on his innate pattern. With an appetite as weak as you’ve described, I suspect the latter. He may thus be both underweight for age and stunted for stature, which makes kids look little, when they are actually supposed to be growing at a faster rate all around, for weight and height. Picky eating and refusal to eat proteins and veggies can mean his gut biome is off kilter, which will change appetite, and leave kids undernourished. A protein powder probably isn’t the whole solution for him. He can try a hypoallergenic one but without allergy or sensitivity testing I can’t make a recommendation on that either! Collagen or free amino acid products like Thorne Amino Plex may be good starts, but I’d recommend making an appointment to get his appetite restored. This will be even more healthful and supportive than just adding a protein powder.
Hi there, mother of an 11 year old girl with adhd and I am looking to overhaul her diet and supplementation. She eats well and most foods but craves a lot of sugar. I want to amp her protein intake by introducing one meal a day via protein shake. Have already limited but not taken out out totally foods with artificial colouring but it’s not easy. She is tall and slim even though she has huge appetite. Please help suggesting a protein shake and perhaps some ideas on supplements for good gut health. Thank you
There are so many available! Store bought, or would she be interested in mixing up her own power packed version? For store-bought, I like Rebbl high protein drinks. Low sugar, good ingredients, non dairy. I am not a fan of brown rice or pea protein concentrates – hard to digest and triggering of discomfort for many kids I’ve worked with – or anything that relies on cane sugar for the flavor – like Orgain, BoltHouse Farms, or Boost. For her own shake concoction, check out Ancient Nutrition or Vital Proteins collagen powders. They come plain or flavored (stevia or monk fruit sweetened) and can mix with milk substitutes, milk, juices, nut butters, or more.
And hey… those sugar cravings are driving her ADHD, at least in part. Find out why in my ADHD and Nutrition Master Class. If you are serious about helping her functional status and avoiding medication for ADHD, leverage the nutrition support in full. That course tells you how, tells you why the Candida/yeast is a pivotal piece, and tells you what to do.
Hi, my daughter is 2.5 years but the size of a 1.5 year old. She is allergic to dairy, eggs and nuts and generally doesn’t like eating meat or fish. She hasn’t gained any weight /height for the past 8 months – in fact has loss some weight. Which supplement would you recommend?
This is a serious growth regression pattern and your daughter probably needs more than extra protein – that alone can’t solve this problem. If she does use supplemental protein, she may be a candidate for elemental source. Your pediatrician should be solving this problem for her. Weak nutrition status in toddlers will impair immune function, learning, and development. These are all reversible, but the sooner the better. If your doctor has already let this much time slide by without solutions, please make an appointment so we can get started – I’m happy to help.
I use whey protein supplements mostly in the form of shakes daily. I have t children, 5 yr old son & a 7 yr old daugter, who shadow me and want to drink what I am drinking. Usually I make them a shake with 1/2 scoop of the protein powder. I have used Designer Whey, CVS and IdealFit protein powders. Is this safe? They are 50 & 65 pounds respectively and boy and girl. The shake usually consists of almond milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder + 1/2-1 cup of berries (blueberries, strawberries) or banana & peanut butter & cocoa powder. No added sugar, but there are artificial sweeteners which even I hate. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
All sounds wonderful Jennifer but I would have no idea if this is safe or appropriate for your kids without assessing them in more detail.
Hi my son has grown up vegetarian. At age 12 he has been told it’s ok if he wants to switch to meat but (at the moment) chooses not to. He refuses nuts (other than salted peanuts) but has milk, soya meat substitutes and loves Humus and bean based burgers etc. He seems to be entering his growth period for puberty (slowly still) but I wondered which sort of protein I should consider if any. When at school he buys a lot of junk food, mostly sugary or pastry. I don’t believe he has any allergies. I have said that we will start doing more packed lunches and I’ve bought higher protein pasta for salads.
This is not a great diet for a boy entering puberty, in my opinion – soy, milk, legumes, and junky sweets? Soy as a major protein is a possible endocrine disruptor that is not advisable for boys; milk all day will leave him wanting for a good array of minerals; and his iron sources are all bound in fibrous plant foods. If he feels great, then fine. If he is slow to enter puberty, there’s your clue that he should be eating some zinc rich foods (varied nuts, which he refuses; pork and meat, which he refuses), heme iron sources, easier to absorb herbal iron sources, some organic animal fats to help him build cholesterol for hormone synthesis, and lay off the sugary junk.
My Child is 3 years old and underweight. Need to increase his weight gain rapidly. I am not sure which protein powder can I give him? Shall I give Whey protein? Please advice.
I can’t advise in this forum, and don’t know if whey is appropriate in his case. Best option is to schedule time to work with me so I can advise.
I appreciate your broad understanding of protein and product, in relation to individual (body) capacity to use it.
For someone with high food sensitivites, including some pro/prebiotics, fillers, and stevia found in many protein and branch-chain amino products,can you suggest a particular BRANCH CHAIN AMINOS brand/product to provide as much protein as possible (beyond the legumes and greens she can digest with using digestive enzymes)?
You might consider Thorne Amino Complex, though this does come with flavorings. Some manufacturers make unflavored powders, such as Pure Encapsulations BCAA powder. Either of these require a provider’s authorization. Another option is pharmaceutical grade amino acid mixes from SHS North America. These require a prescription and are very expensive (about $180 for 6 ounces powder).
Hi, my son is 19 months old and we’ve been told by his MD and PT that he has low muscle tone. He’s always been in 10th percentile in weight but above 50 in height. Not a picky eater and no allergies. Eats a variety of proteins from all groups mentioned in your article. However, our concern is he’s not walking on his own yet and has been fitted for orthotics for ankle support. I was interested in starting him on Collagen Hydrolysate or Gelatin but was unsure of the recommended dose.
No way to tell how to dose this for you without reviewing his food intake and his growth pattern from birth. He may not need more protein at all, but may need more fats and carbs instead. In fact, his growth pattern implies this already. Was he born at 10th percentile weight, or has he dropped to that from mid-chart? It’s great that he likes a variety of foods! If he is eating a total of 35-40 or so grams of protein daily from all sources, then this should be enough, and more protein won’t help him gain weight. More carbs and fats will. More protein in the context of a weak total intake will just be burned for energy, not structure or function, and will over-burden his kidneys. I would also suggest reviewing why he isn’t walking in terms of the whole nutrition picture.
Thank you for your response. Actually he was born at 7lb9oz and dropped to 6lb7oz by discharge. Elaine then, he’s always been at about 10th percentile partly because he had bad reflux for his whole first year. I think you may be right about the data and carbs. He doesn’t have all his teeth in so he struggles to eat hard meats and breads but I substitute with quinoa, rice beans sweet potatoes, meatloaf and veggie chips. However, I might not be giving him enough fats. I guess I’m a little reserved due to my husbands family health history of obesity diabetes and high triglycerides. Thank you again. I am an RN and aware of potential kidney injury so really trying to reach out.
OK – so, that birth wt is roughly 50th percentile, and that is where your son should be growing, give or take 5 or 10 points; above 15 point drop is a codeable growth impairment. Pediatricians tend to be lax here, and wait til kids fall below 5th to act – at which point they will offer Pediasure, which may backfire (see my blog on that here). Definitely do not worry about healthy fats or carbs at this age, especially for an underweight toddler with developmental lags. Infants and toddlers have very different needs in this regard than adults. If he has had reflux, or used PPI for reflux for several months, then this drops absorption of many nutrients especially minerals – hence confounding delays for him. All relies on sound total nutrition at this age. If you’d like more help, let’s get started – set up an appointment anytime.
My 13 year old son is a vegetarian. He eats very little, but does eat a lot of veggies, mainly broccoli. He also loves tofu, but I have recently heard that tofu (soy) can stunt his growth. He is 5’6′, weighs 105 and is on the swim team. I am wondering if I should get a whey protein powder to add to his food and make him smoothies, since he does not get enough protein from his daily diet. Is this a good idea to supplement his diet?
It could, but hard to say without more info. Causes of stunting in kids include low total protein, low total calories, weak intake for healthy fats/oils, poor zinc status, or anything interfering with absorption (gut biome imbalances, disrupted stool patterns). His total protein intake daily should be in the 60-75 grams range especially as an active athlete who is growing and building muscle mass. If he tolerates whey well and also eats ample healthy carbs and fats otherwise, then the whey can be used for “construction” purposes – growth – and not burned up for energy.
My son is 6, will be 7 in November. Doesn’t eat a lot, especially not a lot of meat, but he’s heavy into sports right now. I know he needs something extra, I was thinking about protein powders. He loves the drinks like Pediasure, they just cost so much and go fast! He just wrapped up track & field last week, and Football started this week. I need tips on getting some nutrition in him, as well as a safe way to add a few pounds, hes only about 50 lbs. Are the powders okay and do you recommend a brand?
Congrats on looking for good replenishing foods for your busy son! You can peruse many brands of protein powders at EmersonEcologics.com. If you create your own account with your own e mail and password, you can receive 10% off anything you order with my provider info. When prompted give MyNCFC as provider code and zip code 80027. That will trigger savings for you. They have many, many choices there and you can also call them and ask for help at 1-800-654-4432. For a targeted and detailed plan for your son, and to discern if he even needs a supplemental powder, make an appointment and we can create that -start here https://nutritioncare.net/make-your-appointment/
Good Morning! I am writing about my grandchildren. Before the age of 3, they ate all the fruit and vegetables put in front of them. The twins now 4, followed their older brothers(will be 7 in July) eating behaviors. It consists of pb & honey sandwiches. Mac & cheese (boxed), mozz sticks, kid yogurts, pasta and parm,goldfish,and anything chocolate. They’re always catching colds and coughs in school all yr long. The oldests Dr stated he’s fine for now,@his 6yr checkup. We will worry at 7 if he still won’t venture. He shakes and cries when presented a new food to take. I of course am worried and wondered if the Whey w Hemp will be a nice start. Do regular MDs test them for IgG & IgE? They also get a lot of constipation and are given metamusil or similar, and get diarrhea,even giving them less. The boy twin is still in dippies and suffers the most w his bowels. Thank you for offering such a valuable article!
As a grandmother, you know this isn’t normal – but this is the “new normal” for kids who have been assaulted with too many toxins, antibiotics, vaccines, GMO foods, drugs, etc. This starts in pregnancy – so even kids who have not had many (or any) of these exposures (known or unknown) can skew toward these eating routines if mom entered into pregnancy with exposures, or if she acquired them in pregnancy or delivery (C section, Group B Strep treatment at delivery, vaccines while pregnant, etc).
Functional testing for food sensitivity (IgG) is not usually the purview of mainstream pediatricians; for IgE (allergy) they will refer to allergist MD (who also tend to overlook IgG). If the doctor has offered no new suggestions other than drugs for constipation, then you are free to take a new path. Have a look at my blog on milk addiction for more tips, and stay tuned for my e book on this topic – expanded to 60 pages of strategy for kids who eat this way and have the tantrums, poops, late potty training, and diapers that go with it 🙂
Hello.My son is 8 years old,25kg and 135cm.
He is very active,he is training 3 times per week kickboxing.He doesn’t like to eat veggies but he enjoys eating fruits(mostly bananas and strawberries).He eats home made food.But when I cook something with meat i noticed that he eat the rest in the plate and leave some of the meat i served him.So i don’t think he enjoys eating meat.Would you recommend a protein that can help him gain some weight.Thank you
Your son is burning up a lot of energy between his athletic pursuits, and growth – you’re right, he does need a good protein intake, protected by a well rounded intake of ample healthy carbs and fats/oils. Protein alone won’t help him gain weight or grow. In fact, in kids, high protein, high fat diets with few carbs can stunt growth pattern. He needs to spare protein he eats to build muscle, bone, and tissue. The carbs and good fats will protect the protein so he can grow. Lots of everything is in order – as long as its unprocessed whole food. An assessment of his growth trend over time, plus an assessment of his actual food intake, would tell me what he is most missing in his diet for macronutrients. Pick any protein powder if he won’t eat food with protein (doesn’t have to be meat, but can also be eggs, nuts, seeds, butters of nuts and seeds, lentils, legumes) and have him concoct smoothies with his favorite fruits if nothing else. Add whole, full fat unsweetened coconut milk for some excellent supportive fats; you can also add nut butters or whole raw egg.
Great article, thank you. My 2.5 year old son has milk, soy, yeast, tree and peanut allergies. He also will not eat any meats or beans unless successfully hidden in other foods. He has terrible bowel issues and reflux as well. I’m searching for ways to get protein in him. We’ve used hemp in the past but I was also need concerned that it’s not meeting all of his needs.
Glad this had some ideas for adding protein for you! Sounds like it is needed – but, you’ll see real improvement by addressing the underlying causes of reflux and bowel issues. This is typically disrupted gut biome. Once balanced, it can be life changing and it can also lay the foundation for reducing allergic reactions to foods over time.
My son is 12 years old and very active in sports (soccer, basketball, track, hip hop, etc.), and in the 10-20% in weight and height. He has a hard time gaining weight with all his activities. I’m interested to know if giving him a protein drink (such as Trader Joe’s Whey Protein Powder) after he exercises is a good idea.
It can be, but without knowing what the rest of his food day is like, it’s hard to know if that is the piece that might most help. If he’s dropped down his growth chart to those percentiles from higher years ago, then this indicates his total food intake is not enough for everything – carbs, fats, oils, and protein. If he has any GI issues or symptoms at all (bloating, gas, pickiness, loose stool, irritable stool, constipation), then that suggests interference with absorption – and that will interfere with growth and energy also. Fixing those may be more important than adding a protein drink. If you’d like help sorting it all out, schedule anytime and we can dive in.
My daughter’s jaws were recently wired shut for 6 weeks due to an automobile accident and on day 2 we’re struggling with her intake/protein count. Prior to surgery, she was a well rounded eater but what she drank wasn’t protein packed. What do you suggest?
You can view recipes to add protein powders to here. I’d also suggest checking out products from a company called Functional Formularies / Liquid Hope, for people unable to eat normally or using tube feedings. Hope your daughter feels better soon! She will indeed need good protein to heal.
Our daughter has severe dairy allergies, cannot have any dairy. You don’t seem to like the soy protein powder, what would you suggest to replace the protein lost from the inability to eat/drink dairy? Thank you!
Hi Tom, see options in this post: https://nutritioncare.net/protein-powders-which-ones-for-kids/
For any topic, you can use the search bar on my blog page to see what pops up.
Thank you for this article! My 10 year old weighs 70lbs and has many of the symptoms on this list including cracked nails, picky eating tending towards dairy and wheat with an aversion to meat. I have often wondered about a protein supplement. If there are no allergies or food sensitivities present would you recommend a whey based supplement for a child who mainly eats dairy for protein already?
Whey protein is fine if there are no sensitivities, but without lab tests to confirm this, I’d suspect it is problematic, especially if your child eats a lot of dairy protein already but still has the clinical signs you describe for poor protein status. Something is amiss – either the protein he eats is inflammatory, and/or he doesn’t eat enough of it, and/or his total calorie intake is too low and he thus ends up using protein for fuel rather than tissue/structure. Nutrition assessment will sort this out, if you need help – just set up a time and we can dive in.