Should Teens Have Protein?

Teenage Friends Playing Volleyball On Beach
Active teens may need more protein than non-active teens. (Image: omgimages/iStock/Getty Images)

Teens need protein for many reasons, including building and repairing muscles, promoting hair and skin health, fighting off infections and carrying oxygen in the blood. Proteins also help with building enzymes, hormones and vitamins, especially important for adolescents. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids, most of which your body can naturally produce. However, there are nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make, but that you can get through foods you eat. It is important for teenagers to consume a variety of proteins so their bodies get proper nutrients for growth and development.

How Much Protein?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, males and females ages 13 to 18 years old should aim for about five to six ounces of protein per day, which measures out to be roughly 46 grams per day for teen girls and 52 grams per day for teen boys. A one ounce serving or protein is equivalent to one ounce of meat, a tablespoon of peanut butter or one egg. Consult your doctor if you are a teenage athlete or if you get more than 30 minutes of physical activity per day for recommended protein intake, as your body may require more protein. While most Americans consume enough protein, you should encourage your teenager to choose leaner cuts of meat and trim away visible fat.

Protein Sources

What first comes to mind when you think of protein? Most people probably think of meat, which is undoubtedly a good source of protein. Leaner cuts of meat include foods like beef, ham, lamb, pork and veal, while game meats include bison, rabbit, and venison. Poultry includes foods like chicken, duck, goose, and turkey. Seafood is also a good source of protein. Fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, and soy are all protein sources that provide you with the nine essential amino acids. One boiled egg has almost 7 grams of protein while a 3-ounce serving of cod has 19 grams of protein.

Vegetarian Options

If your teenager is a vegetarian, it is important to make sure he is getting enough protein to promote good health. Surprisingly, there are many vegetarian options for protein. Plant sources of protein include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, quinoa and vegetables. Just a 1-cup serving of lima beans contains 11.58 grams of protein, a slice of whole grain bread contains 5.48 grams. Soy products also provide you with a wide selection of protein options. It is important for your teen to consume a variety of proteins to ensure she is getting essential amino acids.

Protein Supplements

Most adolescents in the United States already consume a high-protein diet, so for most teenagers there is no need to take any kind of protein supplement. Even if your teenager is an athlete or involved in weight lifting, it is possible to get enough protein through foods.

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