Teens have a lot on the go. Eating well can give them the energy they need to perform their best, whether it’s in the classroom or on the sports field. No matter what activities your teen enjoys, well balanced meals and snacks, with enough protein, will help keep their energy levels up throughout the day.
Why is protein important for teens?
Protein is a hard working nutrient. It’s needed for the growth and repair of muscles and tissues, and the production of enzymes and hormones. These are especially important for teens as they experience rapid changes in development. But…in order for protein do its job, teens have to eat enough food to meet their daily energy needs. When calories are too low, the body uses protein for energy, leaving less for its other roles.
How much protein does your teen need?
Teens 14 to 18 years need about 0.85 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight. In practical terms, this means that a 14 to 18 year old who weighs 61 kilograms (135 lbs) needs about 52 grams of protein each day.
Most teens can meet their protein needs by eating a variety of high protein foods throughout the day. In most cases it is unnecessary to count how many grams of protein your teen eats, but if you’re curious about their intake you can check out HealthLink BC’s resource Quick Nutrition Check for Protein.
What foods are high in protein?
Fish, lentils, beans, chicken, tofu, meat, nuts, seeds, eggs, unsweetened milk and milk products, and fortified soy beverage are all high protein foods. Including a serving of these foods at most meals and snacks will help meet protein needs. Vegetables, whole grains and fruits have small amounts of protein.
Each of the following meal and snack ideas contain 15 to 20 grams of protein:
- 175mL (3/4 cup) Greek yogurt and fruit
- 75mL (1/3 cup) Roasted soy nuts with raisins or dried cranberries
- 250mL (1 cup) Chili with quinoa, salad and fruit
- Homemade smoothie with 250mL (1 cup) silken tofu, 30mL (2 Tbsp) almond butter, fruit and 125mL (1/2 cup) fortified soy beverage
- Baked salmon 75mL (2 ½ ounces), brown rice and roast vegetables
- Stir fry with 175mL (3/4 cup) tofu , vegetables and quinoa
- Turkey burger 75mL (2 ½ ounces) on whole grain bun with spinach, cucumber and tomato
Does my teen need protein supplements?
In general, we recommend that healthy individuals meet their protein needs from foods rather than supplements. When your teen eats protein-rich foods, they get a lot more than just protein. They’ll also get naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fibre (from plant foods high in protein). Using protein supplements like powders and bars has no advantage over meeting protein needs from food. Some products may be high in sugar and low in other necessary nutrients, and they can take the place of healthier foods. It’s not known if protein supplements are safe for teens to use.
Do teen athletes need more protein?
Youth who are very active and involved with organized training and competition for an hour a day or more may need more protein. While there is less research on the protein needs of teen athletes compared to adult athletes, teen athletes may need one and a half times as much protein as teens that are less active. For more information on food and eating for student athletes, call 8-1-1 Monday to Friday 9:00 am-5:00 pm to speak to a registered dietitian, or send an email.
Dietitians of Canada: 5 Steps to Healthy Eating for Youth 12-18