My son is a sophomore in high school and very athletic. He recently told me that he wants to switch to an “all protein” diet and only eat meat. I know I’ve seen trends like this around the Internet but what kind of short-term or long-term effects can this have on his health?
Teens should aim to consume healthy, balanced, and varied nutrition.
Protein-heavy diets may lack other vital nutrients such as carbohydrates, and important vitamins and minerals. Meats contain higher amounts of saturated fats than many plant-based foods, which may increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. Carbohydrates are essential for regulation of blood sugar which impacts a child’s athletic performance and stamina. Carbs also lead to a sense of fullness, and help to regulate the gut: fiber is a carbohydrate!
Protein powders have been marketed to teens for decades as a way to help them increase muscle mass and bulk. These supplements are not FDA regulated, and so there is no insight or control over their contents or safety. An increase in protein intake does not singularly lead to an increase in muscle mass. If a teen consumes an excess amount of proteins, the kidneys expend more energy filtering these molecules out through the urine. In the short-term, this may lead to nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and dehydration. Long-term side effects from excessive protein powder supplementation may include kidney damage, especially for those who have an unknown underlying kidney disease. Protein can best and most safely be obtained through actual food products. Supplementation through powders for a healthy and growing teen is unnecessary.
While the body may require protein in order to build muscle, there are other factors in the equation, such as hormonal levels and regular physical training that ultimately help develop muscle mass. Ultimately, the body will best be served by a balanced and varied diet as well as proper hydration and physical fitness.