Protein is one of the most important nutrients to athletes, especially to teenage ones who have the added energy and recovery demands of regular intense sport on top of the body’s natural growth and development. This means that they not only need to eat a lot more food, but certain types of food in particular and protein is one of these.
But to meet these demands, do youth athletes need to take protein supplements and is it even safe for them to? We answer all of your questions and fears in this short article to help you decide if protein shakes are right for you or your youth athlete.
What Are Protein Shakes?
Protein shakes are probably the most popular of all the sports supplements. You can’t seem to go anywhere these days without seeing someone sipping from their shaker or a pouch or ready-made drink stocked on the shelves. But what exactly are they?
Simply put, they’re just protein (usually whey) in powder form that you mix with water or milk or add into other things like smoothies and even pancakes and other baked delights. It’s no magic pill or quick fix, simply the ingredients that you can get from regular whole foods. But they offer a quicker, more convenient and sometimes tastier way to replenish the body after a tough session and to kickstart recovery as well as for a host of other purposes. To learn more about why protein is so important to youth athletes, head over to our handy protein guide.
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is the most common protein used in shakes and is one of the proteins found in cow’s milk. When milk is turned into cheese, the watery component is removed to give cheese its solid form. This leftover liquid is actually the whey. To turn it into the protein shake that you drink, it’s simply dried out and processed to form a powder.
What makes whey the ideal protein for athletes is that it’s what known as a complete protein. This means that it contains an optimal amount of all of the essential amino acids, especially leucine, which the body cannot produce itself and so has to get from the diet. Leucine plays the key role in building new muscle and repairing damaged ones and the high amount of leucine in whey protein is what makes it ideal. Whey is also absorbed by the body quickly meaning the amino acids can get to work straight away to build and repair muscles after a tough training session or game.
Are Protein Shakes Better Than Food?
As we mentioned above, protein shakes are a great way of replenishing your body quickly and conveniently. But nothing beats a healthy and balanced diet and shakes shouldn’t be used to replace meals, only to supplement and improve them.
If you have time and access to a nutritious high protein meal after a tough session, then we’d always recommend this as that will likely to be higher in all of the other macro and micronutrients that your body needs. Plus who doesn't love a good home cooked dinner? However, for days where you can’t eat straight away, perhaps if you have a long commute home or a late-night finish, then protein or recovery shakes can be a good option. It’s much better to refuel the body with a shake than to not refuel at all!
Are Protein Shakes Safe?
With the sudden rise in the use of protein shakes, with that comes a lot of false information too. Many parents and youth athletes are often concerned that protein shakes will be harmful to athletes. A lot of media speculation has suggested that too much protein in the diet causes kidney and liver damage and results in lower calcium levels and weaker bones. Scientific evidence, however, has found that in healthy individuals this is not the case at all! [2,3]
Remember that protein shakes bought from reputable sources are simply powdered food.
The biggest risks to youth athletes is that protein shakes are usually targeted at and marketed to adult athletes and because they're not as tightly regulated as regular food products, they may contain banned or harmful substances not listed on the label. Athletes should only buy supplements from trusted places and these supplements MUST be Informed Sport Tested. This means that a sample has been taken from every batch to test for substances that could cause a failed drugs tests and ruin a career or be harmful to health. Always look out for the logo below and NEVER use supplements that don't show this.
Should Youth Athletes Use Protein Shakes?
At YSN we always promote a food first approach to good nutrition and we’re always working on ways to increase athlete’s knowledge about how to fuel and refuel their bodies. In an ideal world, athletes would get everything they need from a healthy diet without the need for supplements. However, we also know how challenging it can be to juggle full-time sports with full-time education and social and family commitments. And we know how hard it is for parents to find enough time in the day to cook a healthy and nutritious meal on top of this.
When athletes don’t have access to a good performance meal after a training session, then shakes can certainly offer a great alternative. But protein shakes should only be used to meet the body’s nutritional needs. They’re not going to make athletes magically bigger, better, faster, or stronger and they’re certainly not a substitute for hard work and a good diet.
If youth athletes are going to take protein shakes, then we want to know that they’re well educated and getting all of the nutrients their body needs to stay and healthy and perform at their best.
That’s why we’ve created the world’s first recovery shake tailored specifically to youth athletes. Not only is it a great source of protein, but each shake also contains a specific blend of fats, carbs and 16 essential micronutrients to ensure athletes get everything their body needs to perform and its best. To learn more about PRO-TEEN® and if its right for you head over to our website.
- Atherton, P., Kumar, V., Selby, A., Rankin, D., Hildebrandt, W., Phillips, B., Williams, J., Hiscock, N., and Smith, K. (2017) Enriching a protein drink with leucine augments muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young and older men. Clinical Nutrition, 36(3), pp. 888-895.
- Martin, W. F., Armstrong, L. E., & Rodriguez, N. R. (2005). Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & metabolism, 2, 25. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-2-25
- Michaela C Devries, Arjun Sithamparapillai, K Scott Brimble, Laura Banfield, Robert W Morton, Stuart M Phillips, Changes in Kidney Function Do Not Differ between Healthy Adults Consuming Higher- Compared with Lower- or Normal-Protein Diets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 148, Issue 11, November 2018, Pages 1760–1775, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy197