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How Much Protein is Necessary for a Child

Protein is the main building block of the body and a higher protein intake may lead to the perception of a stronger self.

Protein plays a crucial role in the formation of muscle, hormone production, skin and bone strengthening, and nutrient transportation.

However, it is advisable to exercise caution. According to Diana Schnee, MS, RD, CSP, LD, a sports nutrition specialist, consuming excess protein, particularly from protein supplements, may not necessarily be healthy or beneficial. This is particularly true for children. In fact, rather than promoting muscle development, excessive protein intake can cause stress on their liver and kidneys and increase the risk of dehydration.

As Schnee states, “In most Western countries, children already receive two to three times the daily protein they require. It is uncommon for children to require additional protein.”

Despite this, it is still popular among growing children and teenagers to take protein supplements or add protein powders to foods, shakes or smoothies. This trend is particularly noticeable among young athletes, particularly those who wish to bulk up and become bigger and stronger.

How much daily protein does a child need?

So, how much protein is sufficient? According to the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 10 to 30% of our calorie intake should be from protein.

For younger children, the protein requirement is based on their age. Specifically, children aged 4 to 9 require 19 grams of protein daily, while those aged 9 to 13 require 34 grams.

For adolescents between ages 14 and 18, protein requirements vary by gender. Boys need 52 grams, while girls require 46 grams.

Overall, it is essential for children to obtain enough protein every day to meet their basic needs and athletic demands. Two servings of lean protein, such as lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, Greek yogurt, or meat alternatives, are sufficient. Anything additional from protein supplements is likely to exceed their daily requirements and is unnecessary.

Schnee emphasizes,

“For child athletes, the focus should be on adequate intake of whole foods rather than supplements. Although their protein needs are slightly higher, only elite athletes should consider adding protein supplements to their diets, and only if they are over 18 years old.”

The Risks Associated with Protein Supplements

Adding extra protein supplements to your child’s diet can cause long-term health problems, despite being marketed as a way to improve health and build muscle mass. Some of these risks include:

  • Weight Gain
    Excessive protein intake leads to an increase in calorie intake. If a child can’t burn off the calories, the body stores them as fat, leading to weight gain.
  • Organ Damage
    High protein levels put a strain on the kidneys, causing them to work harder to filter out waste products, and can cause kidney stones. A high-protein diet contributes to dehydration and wears out the kidneys over time. The processing of protein creates nitrogen in the liver, which can make it more challenging for the body to process waste and toxins. High levels of nitrogen also impair the body’s ability to break down nutrients.

Complications for Children with Weakened Immune Systems

“Protein supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” warns Schnee. “Many products don’t label all their ingredients, making it impossible to know precisely what your child is consuming. Many protein powders contain stimulants or substances that can take a toll on your child’s digestive system.”

This is especially concerning for children with weakened immune systems, as they may be more susceptible to complications from these ingredients.

When is additional protein intake necessary for children?

According to Sports Nutrition Specialist, Diana Schnee, there are some special circumstances where a child might need additional dietary protein. However, protein supplements or shakes are not always the best options.

Extra protein may be necessary if a child:

  • Is underweight
    However, parents should use caution before offering protein drinks and consult a pediatrician first.
  • Is a picky eater
    Children who dislike meat or prefer to eat pizza or pasta might consume less protein than others, but they likely still meet their nutritional needs.
  • Is vegan/vegetarian
    Vegetarian children may have lower protein levels and might need 10-15% more protein intake to get the same benefits as meat-eaters. Schnee recommends peanut butter, beans, oatmeal, peas, broccoli, and spinach as good sources of protein.
  • Has a metabolic condition
    Children with conditions that cause protein waste might benefit from a higher-protein diet.

It’s important to note that real foods are always better for growing bodies, especially after a hard workout. Although teens and teen athletes might be attracted to protein supplements after a workout, kids need a combination of protein and carbs to rebuild muscle broken down during a workout. Therefore, it’s always best for them to eat a meal.

Life Stage
Total Water
Total Fiber
Linoleic Acid
α-Linolenic Acid
 0–6 mo0.7*60*ND31*4.4*0.5*9.1*
 6–12 mo0.8*95*ND30*4.6*0.5*11.0
 1–3 1.3*13019*7*0.7*13
 4–8 1.7*13025*10*0.9*19
 9–13 2.4*13031*12*1.2*34
 14–18 3.3*13038*16*1.6*52
 19–30 3.7*13038*17*1.6*56
 31–50 3.7*13038*17*1.6*56
 51–70 3.7*13030*14*1.6*56
 > 70 3.7*13030*14*1.6*56
 9–13 2.1*13026*10*1.0*34
 14–18 2.3*13026*11*1.1*46
 19–30 2.7*13025*12*1.1*46
 31–50 2.7*13025*12*1.1*46
 51–70 2.7*13021*11*1.1*46
 > 70 2.7*13021*11*1.1*46
 14–18 3.0*17528*13*1.4*71
 19–30 3.0*17528*13*1.4*71
 31–50 3.0*17528*13*1.4*71
 19–30 3.8*21029*13*1.3*71
 31–50 3.8*21029*13*1.3*71