Every loving parent wants to know what their kid is up to! In todays world, teens have almost unrestricted access to just about anything via various mediums through the event of smartphones, tablets, social media and the internet – the problem is that anyone can access, amend or post/update information and its very difficult to know who or what to trust – despite being at our most advanced period within the information age.
Whenever a young man or woman starts to exercise recreationally or as part of their chosen team sport, it is inevitable that sports supplements will be something they hear of, come into contact with and want to try. One of the most popular supplements is protein powder.
When I first started working out at 14, all of my friends were using protein powder after a workout – so I naturally thought I needed it too. This being a new concept, I had no idea what it was or did, but I saw my friends take it after strength and conditioning sessions and I wanted to try some. My mother had an endless list of questions about it, before, during and after buying some for me.
There was talk of steroids, hormones, unhealthy ingredients, food additives you name it – it would have been easier to ask for my first car to be paid and bought instead of protein powder. So why the stigma and what is is based on?
This article is written in order to settle and ease the minds of parents that are concerned about their child taking protein supplements, as well as educate both parents and athlete on what protein powder does and doesn’t do.
Specifically, this article will inform you on what protein powder actually is, what protein powder actually does, and whether protein powder is safe or not. It is key to note that this article, I will be talking particularly about whey protein, which is a component of milk protein.
So - What are Protein Powders?
Protein powders, in general, are actually just what they sound like (powdered proteins). It is protein derived from a protein source and processed in a way that allows it to be in powder form for convenience and longer shelf life. Whey protein makes of 20-30% of milk protein and is a protein found in cow's milk, many infant formulas and breast milk. The other percentage is made up of casein protein.
Basically, whey protein is separated from casein after a coagulant is introduced, which causes the casein the “curdle” like cheese and the liquid whey to rise to the top. Through different processes chosen by different brands, that liquid is processed into powder form to create whey protein powder.
Hopefully that explanation helps you to see that whey protein powder is basically just another food source. Because whey protein is readily found in milk, it is something that most people are consuming anyway, but protein powder helps to concentrate the whey and make consuming it more convenient.
The quality of a protein is often measured by its Leucine content. Leucine is an essential branched chain amino acid (or BCAA) that has been found to play a major role in muscle protein synthesis (or muscle tissue repair). Without going too much into the science and mechanisms on Leucine, just note that the higher the Leucine concentration, the better and higher quality the protein source is. Interestingly enough, whey protein has one of the highest Leucine contents at 12%. This helps to see that not only is whey protein convenient but it is a very high quality protein source.
Now that we know what protein powder is, let’s take a look at what it is designed to do.
What Does Protein Powder Do / Not Do?
Throughout my life as a regular gym goer and fitness enthusiast, I always get comments from people who see me after working out or training with a protein shake in hand. They are always quick to relate the fact that I have a protein shake after training to attaining my goals or physique. Putting two and two together, they automatically assume that since I’m using a protein shake after training, that must be the X-factor to meeting my training objectives. Wrong.
The problem with teens taking supplements is that most off the shelf, mass market protein powders are designed and marketed towards big, strong muscle-bound men or very ‘toned’ girls – all of whom are over 18. This presents a real challenge for parents and youths as it can act to give them very unrealistic expectations as regards the effects of taking protein supplements and acts as the main catalyst for misrepresentation of protein powder and the stigmas attached (aka steroids and veins busting out).
The key is to remember that this marketing tact is largely down to the audience and goals of bodybuilders, who up until now have been the biggest partakers of supplements, whereas, your son or daughter simply may want to use protein powder for a protein boost to support their training goals where ready made whole food sources (meats, eggs, fish etc.) may not be on hand to buy, cook, prepare or consume.
Because of media representations, there are a lot of people out there that think that protein powders do way more than they actually do. As a parent, it’s important that you are properly informed so that your decision really reflects what is best for your dependents. Let’s start by setting the record straight on what protein powder does not do.
- Protein powder is not a performance enhancer. It does not acutely improve strength, speed, power, stamina, or any other marker of performance.
- Protein powders are not steroids – although its easy to see why this association is made. In fact, an individual who is training hard can use protein supplements and possibly see no results from it at all.
- Protein powder won’t automatically induce muscle gain or fat loss.
If your teen is taking protein powders whilst spending the weekend and evenings playing on the PlayStation or knee deep in Minecraft on the PC, he or she isn’t going to spawn muscles or magically drop weight.
These are things protein powder simply doesn’t do, but that doesn’t mean it is not useful.
Protein powder, as we’ve discussed, is simply a convenient source of protein. It does the same thing that a lean piece of chicken breast would do. It provides an individual with the macronutrient protein, which aids in muscle building and other important cell functions.
Ultimately, protein powder helps an individual to hit their daily protein goal. If a person is already eating the amount of protein they should for their goals, they don’t need protein powder or any supplement for that note. But for most people who aren’t, protein powder is a good option as it is affordable, instant and convenient.
So we see that protein powder is not some magical muscle building substance, but rather just another source of protein. But, is it safe?
Are all Protein Powders Safe?
The last thing that parents need to know is whether or not protein supplements are safe. This is probably the most important thing to consider, since nothing else really matters if it isn’t safe.
Protein powder is still a relatively new food technology but currently, there are no studies that show that there is any danger at all associated with protein supplements. So, yes, protein powder is safe. But, you may have other concerns.
A lot of people will claim that high-protein diets are dangerous and not good for the kidneys. I know this is one I definitely heard and something my mother was concerned about as well. Well, studies have shown that in a normal, healthy individual, high-protein diets are absolutely fine. The only time it has been shown to cause complications is when a person had a damaged kidney to begin with. So, as long as the kidneys are working fine, eating more protein will pose no threat.
So we see that not only is protein powder safe but the high-protein diet that is usually associated with it is safe as well.
If your child competes in high level sport, it is always advised to look for the Informed Sport logo to ensure that taking this to support recovery isn’t going to compromise any drug tests as part of his competition procedure.
The Take-Home Message
We now know what protein powder is, what it does, and that it is safe. You are now equipped to make a good, informed decision on the subject.
Protein powder is great! It’s affordable, convenient, and tastes pretty good but it’s still not something that everyone needs to have. Whether you choose to allow your child (or yourself) to have it or not, there really is no wrong choice. Great progress can be made with it or without it.
So, to the young men and women reading this article, go show your parents all you’ve learned about protein powder. Reassure them that it’s safe and they can trust it. They will be impressed that you took the time to research the matter and come to the decision yourself.
To the parents, make your decision and explain to your child the reasons for your choice. They will appreciate that you are looking out for their best interest. If you chose not to allow protein powder, reassure them that they can still make great progress and help them get some extra protein from whole food sources and keep a look out on our blog and social media posts to assist in real food choices for youth athletes.
If your willing to sit down and buy a McDonalds, or any other fast food for that matter - now you understand that protein powders are a real food sources, it may help to decide what actually going to be best in the long term.
When it comes to any supplement, make sure to not just listen to what others have to say about it; do your research. This will help you make the best choice, regardless of what the supplement is.
As there is no safe protein shakes developed specifically for youths on the market, and given that teens in high level sport have similar nutrient needs to adults, YSN® developed PROTEEN™
to meet the individual needs and values of youths in high level gym programmes.
Each and every ingredient in PROTEEN™
is tailored to suit an active adolescents development needs, reducing susceptibility to injury and ensuring common nutritional deficiencies are eliminated. Discover more >>