Supplement Perspectives

Harnessing the Power of Protein Supplements for Teen Athletes

Product developers who work on protein supplements typically focus on three key consumer groups: adult athletes, dieters and seniors. But, according to Supplement Perspectives regular contributor Kathleen Dunn, there’s another smart target that’s often overlooked and undervalued: the teen athlete.

Product developers who work on protein supplements typically focus on three key consumer groups: adult athletes who need to fuel the demands of intense training and competition, dieters who need to protect lean muscle as they shed body fat, and seniors who need to combat age-related muscle loss. But there’s another smart target that’s often overlooked and undervalued: the teen athlete.

When you develop a quality product with teen-friendly features, you’ll be rewarded with benefits well beyond fueling these young athletes. Your product is likely to make the “Best Supplements" list that coaches and sports nutritionists have at the ready when asked, “So, what protein supplements do you recommend?" And don’t forget, when a teen likes a product, they happily share their great find with their hyperconnected circle of friends, following, liking and pinning its praises along the way.

If you’re inspired to formulate a protein supplement for teen athletes, consider using the recently updated joint position paper between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine. (J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Mar;116(3):501-28.). While the position paper’s main focus is the adult athlete, it’s a good guide for the amount and type of protein a teen athlete would need.

Ready to formulate? Here are a few basics to include on your development checklist:

1. Provide enough protein.

To optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis, teen athletes need to consume about 0.25 to 0.3 g of protein per kilogram body weight, preferably within two hours after training (the early recovery window). In practical terms, this translates into about 15 to 25 g of protein for most teen athletes. (Of course, this would be adjusted for lean dancers, husky football players and others hovering at the tail ends of the typical weight range for teen athletes.) You can use one protein source with a high-biological value like whey protein or mix and match several sources, including plant proteins for a vegan product, to provide all the essential amino acids in proper proportion.

2. Hit the leucine trigger.

Your product needs to provide enough leucine. Why? This essential amino acid has the unique ability to activate a critical cell signaling pathway, the mTORC1 pathway, responsible for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and ultimately building (and maintaining) muscle mass. It’s called the “leucine trigger" or “leucine threshold." Current consensus points to at least 2 g of leucine per serving to pull the trigger. (J Nutr. 2016 Feb;146(2):155-83)

4. Make it simple to use.

Teens involved in competitive sports are under a serious time crunch, and they are seldom within arm’s reach of a refrigerator or blender. A product with a ready-to-eat delivery form that can be easily consumed on the travel bus, on the sidelines, or during the mad dash from the locker room to the classroom is sure to earn a second look from these athletes.

5. Deliver a teen-friendly flavor.

Flavor is the great divide between developing products for adults and teens. In fact, when it comes to satisfying the teenage palate, your flavor gurus may need to pull out all the stops. After all, teens not only have more taste buds than adults, those taste buds are more sensitive and discriminating. The result is the sweet preference of younger years is replaced with a teenage desire for more sophisticated flavors, not to mention a new fondness for all things sour. The good news is there are plenty of healthy options to infuse a product with an enticing flavor without transforming it into a junk food.

6. Formulate for double duty.

For maximum muscle adaptation to training, it’s important for a teen athlete to get enough protein not only after exercise but also at every meal. So the post-exercise recovery goal (15 to 25 g of high-quality protein that hits the leucine trigger) also applies to each meal. With the right flavor profile and convenient delivery form, a recovery product can easily double as a supplement to help boost much-needed mealtime protein.

The Bottom Line

By focusing on these six key features, your protein supplement can provide what serious teenage athletes need: high-quality protein wrapped in an enticing flavor and delivered with the grab-and-go ease that will have them coming back for more.

Kathleen Dunn, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian, author, and industry consultant with over 25 years of experience in health and wellness. Her technical expertise is behind the successful launch of hundreds of premium branded and private label dietary supplements. Dunn is the co-author of Eating for A's, a month-by-month nutrition and lifestyle guide to raise smarter kids (www.eatingfor.com).

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