Carbohydrates eventually turn into glucose, which is required by every single cell. During the teenage years, your teen’s body needs that glucose not only to support rapid growth, but also to fuel his brain during class and give him energy for after-school activities. Just make sure the carbs come from healthy options, rather than from vending machine snacks or fast foods.
Getting the Minimum
All teenagers, both girls and boys, need at least 130 grams of carbohydrates each day, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine reports. This minimum requirement goes up for a teen girl who is pregnant, who needs 175 grams daily until she gives birth and 210 grams each day if she nurses her little one. These basic recommendations might not be enough for your growing teenager, so calculate his own individual needs.
Calculating Specific Needs
Help your teenager keep track of how many calories he’s getting each day by asking him to write down everything he eats. In general, teenage boys need 1,600 to 3,200 calories daily, while girls need 1,400 to 2,400 calories every day. If your teen is relatively inactive, the lower recommendation applies, but more active kids should strive for the higher end of the recommendation. Forty-five to 65 percent of those calories need to come from carbohydrates, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 states. Carbs have 4 calories per gram. If your teen tends to consume an average of 2,200 calories daily, for example, he’ll need 247 to 358 grams of carbohydrates each day.
Don’t Forget the Fiber
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, although it has its own recommendation because it does not convert into glucose. Just like you, your growing teen needs to get plenty of fiber to help his digestive system function optimally. By helping him meet his fiber needs, he’ll also stay full for a longer period of time, minimizing that rumbling belly effect during class. Teen boys need 31 grams of fiber up through age 13, then 38 grams of fiber daily after that, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine reports. Girls need 26 grams of fiber through the age of 13, then 25 grams of fiber every day thereafter. Pregnancy and breastfeeding up her requirement to 28 and 29 grams a day, respectively.
Where to Get Them
Carbohydrates come from just about any type of food, with the exception of meat, fish, poultry and certain seafood types. But not all carb sources are high quality. Your teen can get all the carbohydrates he needs by snacking on chips, eating cookies or filling up on foods from the drive-through. These foods, however, offer very few nutrients and little fiber. Help him get the most out of his diet by providing fresh whole fruits as a quick snack. Give him roasted nuts instead of chips. Swap out white bread for whole-grain bread. Include vegetables at every meal -- slip diced veggies into a morning omelet, pack up celery sticks and hummus for lunch, or make salad to go along with dinner.
- Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Total Water and Macronutrients
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Carbohydrates