Why high protein shakes are not a great recovery snack for young athletes

There has long been discussion regarding what an appropriate snack is for young athletes after a game or competition. Team snacks start at a very young age when pre-school children participate in their first game. As a pediatric dietitian I like to see snacks that start teaching youngsters how you should refuel your body after activity.

As my kids have aged I have noticed more parents and coaches taking interest in what an after game snack should be, especially if a team is competing at a high or select level of competition. However, I have noticed that many well-meaning adults like to pass along nutrition advice that is not suitable for a growing child.

Recently, a parent told me that a coach encouraged a high protein, low carb shake as a healthy snack for after the game. The shake that was suggested had 25 grams of protein 9 grams of carbohydrate and this was recommended for a 10 year old.

The average 10 year old weighs about 70 pounds, depending upon height. If they are active they may need up to 45 grams of protein per day (based on 1.4 grams per kg, if in an endurance sport). Ideally, this protein should be spread throughout the day. The shake recommended would provide over 50% of the daily needs in one snack.

Despite what many popular diets encourage, young athletes need carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a quick form of energy and can be used to build glycogen stores. These glycogen stores are used as fuel in endurance events. Following an endurance event like swimming, soccer, lacrosse, or distance running, glycogen stores are depleted. Therefore, they need to be replenished and the low carbohydrate amount in some protein shakes is not adequate for replenishing glycogen stores. It is recommended that on average young athletes should consume about 40 grams of carbohydrate and 10 grams of protein during the recovery phase.

What are good recovery snacks for young athletes?

  • 8-12 ounces of chocolate milk and ½  banana

  • Peanut butter and Jelly Sandwich (2 slices whole wheat bread, 1 tbsp of jelly, and 2 tbsp of peanut butter)

  • Turkey and Cheese Sandwich (2 slices of whole wheat bread, 1 slice of cheese, and 1 small slice of turkey) and 1 cup of strawberries

  • 1 ounce of pretzels (1 small bag), 1 small apple, and 2 cheese sticks

Overall, the recovery snack should contain at least 1 serving of protein (Milk, Cheese, Nuts, Nut Butter, Lean Meats, Seeds, or Pulses) and 2 servings of carbohydrates (Crackers, Pretzels, Bread, Fruits, and Dairy). Milk actually contains protein and natural milk sugars (carbohydrates).  Following a competition it is actually ok for young athletes to replenish themselves with sweetened beverages like chocolate milk or 100% fruit juice as this will replenish glycogen stores and fluids that were lost.

The next time someone asks what a healthy snack is for a young athlete, think about what the purpose of the snack is. If it is for recovery after competition it should not be heavy on the protein, but contain more carbohydrates.

For more information:

Jill Castle https://jillcastle.com/young-athletes/sports-nutrition-young-athletes/

Heather Mangieri http://www.heathermangieri.com/fueling-young-athletes/

Amy Reed