Protein Shakes for Teenage Athletes: 7 Ways to Add Protein
It is not uncommon for teenage athletes to be interested in adding a protein shake to their sports nutrition meal plan. Protein shakes can be a convenient way to help teenage athletes meet their protein needs and also consume a variety of vitamins and minerals.
There are numerous ways athletes can add protein to their shakes using real food items. Let’s first examine how much protein to include in a teenage athlete’s protein shake. Then we will look at 7 ways to increase the protein content of the shake.
Making a Protein Shake for Teenage Athletes
When a teenage athlete wants to add a protein shake to their daily sports nutrition plan, the first question should be how much protein to include in the shake.
How Much Protein?
In determining how much protein to include in a teenage athlete’s shake, it is important to understand that protein recommendations for athletes are typically based upon their body weight. In addition, athletes are encouraged to spread their protein intake throughout the day with several meals and snacks.
Although there is limited research in the adolescent population, general recommendations are for athletes to consume ~ 0.25-0.3 grams of protein/kg body weight with each meal or snack. This calculates to be in the range of 15-20 grams of protein for most teenage athletes; with larger athletes needing more protein than smaller athletes.
Boosting the Nutrient Profile of the Teenage Athlete’s Protein Shake
Adding a variety of fruits, leafy greens, and spices is a great way to add fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your shakes. Consider blending in the following:
- Frozen Fruit: Frozen fruit is flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness. Thus, frozen fruit maintains a nutrient content similar to fresh fruit. Keep a variety on hand in your freezer, including: mixed berries, mango, peaches, pineapple, and sliced banana.
- Leafy Greens: Adding leafy greens to your shake, such as kale and spinach, is a great way to boost the nutrient profile. It will turn your shake a brownish, green color, but will not alter the flavor of the shake.
- Spices: Spices are a great way to enhance the flavor and nutritional content of your shake. Consider trying cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, or ginger to spice things up.
7 Ways to Add Protein to a Teenage Athlete’s Shake
Now that you have an idea of how much protein to include in your shake, let’s look at 7 ways to add protein. Using these ideas, teenage athletes can easily meet the target range of 15-20 grams of protein.
#1 Greek Yogurt: Simple Way to Increase Protein in Your Shake
Greek yogurt is an excellent option for adding protein to your shake. Greek yogurt contains ~21 grams of protein per cup, while regular yogurt has ~7 grams of protein. Therefore, you get ~3 times more protein when switching from regular to Greek yogurt.
In addition to protein, Greek yogurt provides calcium and some brands are also fortified with Vitamin D. Using a vanilla flavored Greek yogurt will give your shake a rich, creamy flavor making it a great addition to your shake.
#2 Ultra-Filtered Milk: Great Addition to Protein Shakes for Teenage Athletes
Ultra-filtered milks, such as Fairlife® or H‑E‑B MooTopia®, are filtered to remove the lactose and concentrate both the protein and calcium content of the beverage. To provide a comparison, a cup of ultra-filtered milk has ~13 grams of protein. A cup of regular cow’s milk has 8 grams of protein. Thus, ultra-filtered milk has ~50% more than regular milk.
Adding ultra-filtered milk to a protein shake for teenage athletes is a great way to help teens meet their protein needs. If you are looking for a chocolate-based shake, consider using a chocolate flavored ultra-filtered milk. For example, a chocolate, peanut butter, and banana shake made with ultra-filtered milk is a delicious protein shake packed full of nutrition.
#3: Dry Milk: Easy Way to Boost Protein, Calcium, and Vitamin D
Another easy way to boost the protein content of your shake is by adding non-fat dry milk. Each 1/3 cup serving of dry milk contains 8 grams of protein. In addition to protein, dry milk also contains calcium and Vitamin D.
Keep in mind, however, that dry milk does contain lactose. If you are lactose intolerant, you will want to select a different option for increasing the protein content of your shake.
#4 Cottage Cheese: Ideal Addition to Bed Time Protein Shakes for Teenage Athletes
Cottage cheese is a great source of protein, providing ~28 grams of protein per 1 cup serving. The majority of protein in cottage cheese is casein protein, which is more slowly absorbed by the body compared to other types of protein.
Since casein protein is more slowly absorbed it is often recommended as an ideal protein source to consume prior to bed. If you are looking for additional snacks to have before bed, check-out my recent blog, 5 Healthy Evening Snack Ideas for Athletes.
Even if you are not a fan of the texture of cottage cheese, it blends well into a protein shake. It will not alter the flavor of your shake, but will give it a creamy texture. If you are lactose intolerant, look for lactose free options, such as Lactaid® cottage cheese, at the store.
#5 Tofu: Plant-Based Source of Protein
Adding tofu to your shake will not only make your shake creamy, it will add protein, vitamins, and minerals. There are a variety of types of tofu. However, silken or soft tofu is most often used for shakes or smoothies.
Tofu is made from soy milk. Thus, the protein found in tofu is soy protein. Unlike most sources of plant protein, soy protein is a complete protein. This means that soy protein contains all 9 of the essential amino acids, which our bodies cannot produce. A 3-oz serving of silken tofu provides ~6 grams of protein.
Tofu has a mild flavor and when blended into a shake it will not alter the taste. However, it will give the shake an extra creamy texture making it a delicious addition.
#6 Nut Butters: Add Flavor and Healthy Fats
Nut butters contain protein, unsaturated fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, making them a nutritious option to enjoy in your shake. A 2-tablespoon serving of nut butter contains ~7 grams of protein.
When selecting a nut butter, choose a product that has limited added ingredients. Some nut butters contain added sugars and hydrogenated oils, making them less healthy choices.
Also be mindful that nut butters are calorie dense, containing ~200 calories per serving. Adding nut butters will easily increase the total calories in your shake.
If you are working to gain weight, nut butters can be a great addition to your protein shake. However, if weight gain is not your goal, be aware of how much nut butter you add to your shake.
#7 Chia Seeds: Boost the Nutrients in Protein Shakes for Teenage Athletes
Chia seeds are nutrient dense seeds that provide protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. A 2-tablespoon serving of chia seeds provides 6 grams of protein along with 8 grams of fiber.
Chia seeds have a remarkable ability to absorb water and can be easily blended into your shake. This ability to absorb water will give the shake a thicker texture. Chia seeds do not have much flavor so putting a few tablespoons of chia seeds into your shake is great way to boost the nutrient profile.
What About Protein Powders in Shakes for Teenage Athletes?
In general, teenage athletes should be able to meet their protein needs from food sources. For convenience purposes, protein powders may assist with meeting sports nutrition needs when time is limited. As a reminder, supplements are intended to “supplement” your diet – not take the place of whole foods and a well-balanced sports nutrition meal plan.
Evaluating Sport Supplements for Teenage Athletes
If you are considering a protein powder it is important to know that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that food is. Dietary supplements may contain banned substances that could potentially make you ineligible for competition.
Due to this, look for supplements that have been third-party tested. Supplements that are third-party tested have an outside organization evaluate the supplement for accuracy of ingredients. Two companies that evaluate sports supplements are NSF International Certified for Sport and Informed Sport.
Also, when using protein powder in a shake, be aware of how much protein is in one scoop of the protein powder. Recognizing that a teenage athlete only needs 15-20 grams of protein in the shake, you may not need to include one full scoop of the protein powder.
If you are mixing the protein powder into milk or adding in other sources of protein such as Greek yogurt or nut butter, make sure to factor in the protein content of these items when calculating the total protein in the shake.
Make Your Protein Shake!
You now are equipped with a variety of ways to add protein to your shake. Consuming a variety or protein sources, along with an array of fruits and vegetables can help ensure you meet your nutrient needs.
For additional suggestions on ways to meet your performance nutrition needs visit with a Registered Dietitian who can work with you on developing a customized sports nutrition meal plan.
If you are teenage athlete looking for ideas to support weight gain, review my recent blog 7 Nutrition Tips to Support Weight Gain in High School Athletes.
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