Teens have unique caloric and nutritional needs. Teen athletes, in particular, need extra protein to fuel their activity and encourage healthy muscle mass development. Most teens, however, are able to get all the protein they need through a balanced diet. Homemade protein shakes with whole food ingredients can be healthy for teens who are short on the nutrient, but commercial shake supplements are not necessary and may even harm a teen’s health.
Protein Requirements for Teens
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls need about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, and older teens need a little less than that. Growing athletes who are building muscle mass, however, may need up to 0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight per day. For a 150-pound teen, that’s about 75 grams of protein per day if he is inactive and 90 to 135 grams per day if he is a competitive athlete.
The FDA does not regulate commercially produced protein shakes and supplements, and clinical trials on such supplements are primarily performed on adults rather than teens. In an article published in 2013, “Consumer Reports” cautioned that some protein supplements contain hormones that can cause changes in secondary sex characteristics in developing teens going through puberty. Other protein supplements may contain illegal, unlisted steroids or harmful heavy metals, which can cause side effects such as weakness and fatigue, headaches, and muscle and joint pain.
Most teens -- even athletic ones -- get enough protein through their diet. However, if your teen has a poor appetite or doesn’t consume many protein-rich foods, healthy homemade shakes can deliver the nutrients she needs. Choose a natural high-protein base such as skim milk, which has about 8 grams of protein per cup; plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, which has 18 grams per 6-ounce container; or silken tofu, which has about 16 grams per cup of cubes. Add fresh or frozen fruit to taste, blend with crushed ice and serve.
Other Protein Sources
The Kids Health website recommends that teens consume nutrient-rich, whole-food sources of protein, rather than getting the nutrient through supplements or shakes. High-quality protein sources include lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy foods and dairy foods. So instead of reaching for a shake, teens should carry or prepare protein-rich snacks throughout the day. Before adding shakes to your teen's diet, consult with your child's doctor.
- Allegheny County Health Department: Nutrition for Teenage Athletes
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Protein for the Teen Athlete
- Rice University: Protein Requirements for Athletes
- Consumer Reports: Young Body-Builders Beware
- Oregon Health Authority: Heavy Metals and Your Health
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database
- FAGE USA: FAGE Total 0% Greek Yogurt
- KidsHealth.org: A Guide to Eating for Sports