How Many Calories Does a 17 Year Old Need?

With obesity on the rise, teenagers especially need to learn early how to maintain a healthy weight. Teenagers may be tempted to take drastic measures to cut calories. Misinformation, dieting myths, and more can make it confusing for 17-year olds to know how many calories are actually needed for daily energy levels or proper development. So, how many calories should a 17 year old eat in a day?

In general, 17-year olds females need an average of 2,000 calories per day while 17-year old males need an average of 2,800 calories per day. More or less calories are needed based on physical activity amount and other factors. Teens at this stage of life are quickly transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood. Making meaningful efforts to promote healthy habits and food choices can make living as a healthy adult easier to manage.    

Want to learn what teens should eat at 17? Read on to learn from a registered dietitian nutritionist all about calorie needs and eating healthy for teens who are 17-years old. 

How Many Calories Should a 17 Year Old Eat in a Day?

The following chart from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can help you and your teen find out the appropriate amount of calories to eat each day. 

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Factors such as physical activity amount, age, size, and gender affect the amount of calories teenagers should get each day. In general, 17 year old girls need between 1,800 to 2,400 calories daily and 17 year old boys need about 2,000 to 3,200 calories each day

Dietitians can provide helpful guidance for factoring in physical activity, gender, or other factors. If you have concerns or challenges with caloric intake, be sure to ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a dietitian if you don’t already see one regularly. As nutrition experts, dietitians can find unique and helpful ways for you to get the nourishment you need based on individual preferences and circumstances.

What Determines the Amount of Calories a 17-year old Teen Needs?

Calorie needs can vary depending on many factors. These factors include age, sex, height, and level of activity. Other than the differing calorie requirements, the nutritional needs of teens during this life stage are basically the same. 

Calorie needs for teen boys are higher since 17 year old boys are, on average, physically bigger. They also have more lean muscle mass generally, resulting in nutritional recommendations that are on average a little higher than a teen girl’s requirements. However, not all needs are higher in males. Some nutrient requirements for teen girls are higher, especially for iron.

Nutrient requirement levels for all teens are just estimated for the general population. Individual circumstances and requirements are important and should be discussed with a registered dietitian.

Why Does Your Body Need Calories? 

Calories are fuel and energy to support your body’s needs for growth, movement, brain and heart function, and other physiological processes.

Each day your body uses calories as energy in 3 different ways:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate– about 50-80% of your total calories. These are calories the body needs to fuel all body processes such as breathing, heartbeat, pumping blood, growth and repair, hormone levels, brain function, etc. 
  • Digestion– 5-10% of total calories. Your body needs energy to digest food and liquids as it absorbs, transports, uses, and stores nutrients.
  • Physical Activity– about 20% or more of total calories. This includes any type of physical movement during the day such as daily activities, chores, taking the stairs, walking to school, and planned exercise. You burn around 300-800 calories per hour of sports practice, depending on several factors including type of sport, body weight, body composition, exercise intensity, playing position, and amount of breaks.

Should 17-Year Olds Track Calories Each Day?

Now that you have an estimate of your total calories, you need to get an idea of how you’re doing on a typical day to know what kind of changes to make. You don’t need to track your calories every day, and you don’t have to hit this exact calorie range each day. Individual circumstances vary, but this calorie estimation will give you a pretty close starting point. 

It can be helpful to get an idea of total calorie intake, but it’s not usually recommended for teenagers to count calories daily (unless for specific goals, health issues, etc.). Instead, it’s best to learn to eat an appropriate amount of food and nutrients at appropriate times throughout the day. 

Learn how to eat by listening to hunger cues and also keeping in mind your overall nutrition recommendations. You can track calories occasionally to get a general picture, but don’t become obsessed with tracking food and calorie amounts. This can quickly become an unhealthy obsession. Instead, focus on fueling your body with nutritious foods, and you’ll be setting yourself up for success and top athletic performance. 

I recommend initially tracking food for 3-7 days during a regular week of training and practice to see your average calorie intake. You can use a food logging app on your phone or an online calculator. Adjust calorie intake if needed. You may want to meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or your doctor to talk about your results and nutrition plan, especially if you aren’t in a healthy weight category.

See also:

Are Calories and Nutrients the Same?

The amount of calorie content in a food depends on the combination of carbohydrate, protein, and fat that food contains. Carbohydrates and protein each provide four calories per gram. Fat provides nine calories per gram, making it important to eat nutrient-dense fats since calories from fat add up faster. 

Teenagers need calories for energy to fuel movement and body functions. Nutrients are needed to perform important roles in the body such as building strong bones, healing wounds, boosting your immune system, contributing to organ development, and converting food into energy. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are examples of nutrients.

Carbohydrate, protein, and fats are called collectively macronutrients. Individual vitamins and minerals are termed micronutrients. Food provides both, so it is important to note that calories aren’t the only measure of how “healthy” a food is. Some foods have lots of calories and hardly any nutrients (potato chips, fast food) and other foods can have lots of nutrients and hardly any calories (cucumbers, celery, leafy greens).

What Should 17 Olds Look for on Labels?

Learning to read food labels is an important skill for teenagers, especially because this age group tends to eat a lot of quick grab-and-go packaged foods. When teenagers are looking at food labels, they shouldn’t only consider the calorie count.

Check the serving size and then notice the items to decrease: calories, added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.

There are also nutrients you’ll want to increase in higher amounts. Specific nutrients of concern in teenage diets include the following: 

Try to increase intake of these nutrients by finding foods with higher percentages or content of these nutrients (listed on the label, usually under %DV or Daily Value). 20% or higher is great.

Learn more about the Nutrition Facts Label. The label found on foods changes from time to time. Stay updated by reviewing the most recent set of changes

What Should a 17 Year Old Eat in a Day?

Knowing how much to eat is just half the battle. 17 year olds are an interesting age bunch and vary in level of cooking skills, growth spurt rates, interest in food, ability to eat anything and never feel full, skipping meals, and so much more. You’ll never find more interesting food habits!

Knowing which foods will appropriately fuel a growing 17-year old is important. Eating a variety of foods from the food groups will fuel a teen with a variety of important nutrients essential for growth and development.

What are the Food Group Recommendations for Teenagers ages 17?

The following image shows the most recent dietary guidelines for teenagers. Remember, the average 17 year old needs approximately 2,200-2,800 calories a day

As shown above, the average 17-year old female at 2,000 calories per day should eat a variety of foods including:

  • Vegetables– 2 1/2 servings per day
  • Fruit– 2 servings per day
  • Grains– 6 servings per day
  • Dairy– 3 servings per day
  • Protein– 5 1/2 servings per day

The average 17-year old male at 2,800 calories per day should eat a variety of foods including:

  • Vegetables– 3 1/2 servings per day
  • Fruit– 2 1/2 servings per day
  • Grains– 10 servings per day
  • Dairy– 3 servings per day
  • Protein– 7 servings per day

How Much Carbohydrates Should a 17 Year Old Eat?

Carbs are an important nutrient to fuel a teenager. 45-65% of calories should come from carbohydrates per day for teenagers. To calculate, know that carbs have 4 calories per gram. Example: If total calories equal 3,000 then carbs would equal 338-488 grams per day.

Calculate Needs: You can also calculate carbohydrate needs based on body size. You need about 5-8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day (to get kilograms, take total weight in pounds and divide by 2.2). Example: for a 150 pound (68 kg) athlete, that equals 340-544 grams of carbs per day. Teen athletes may need more carbohydrates per day.

Choose carbs from healthier options such as fruit, vegetables, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, whole wheat bread/pasta/tortillas, etc. Limit intake of processed carbohydrates such as white bread, sugary cereal, and dessert.

Carbohydrate Examples:

  • 1 slice bread= 15 grams carbohydrates
  • 1 cup whole wheat cereal= 30 grams
  • 1 cup cooked pasta= 45 grams
  • 1 cup cooked kidney beans= 40 grams
  • 6 crackers= 15 grams
  • 1 cup milk= 12 grams
  • 1 medium fruit= about 15-30 grams
  • 1 cup 100% fruit juice= 30 grams

How Much Protein Should a 17 Year Old Eat?

Consuming protein helps build, repair, and maintain muscle mass. Protein provides some energy and helps with many bodily functions and reactions to keep you healthy and strong. 

Needs for protein increase during the teenage years. During this life stage, 17 year olds need an average of 46-52 grams of protein per day.  Protein needs for girls stay at around 46 grams per day, but boys increase their protein needs to 56 grams per day as they become young adults. 

Calculate Needs: You can also calculate needs. Teenage athletes need 10-35% of their total calories coming from protein, or about 0.45-0.6 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight. Protein has 4 calories per gram.

Protein Examples:

Protein is mainly found in meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy products. Here are some common foods that contain protein: 

  • About 1/2 cup of hummus/beans= 7-10 grams protein
  • 1 cup of milk = 8 grams
  • 1 cup greek yogurt= 20 grams
  • 1 cup cottage cheese= 28 grams
  • 3 oz chicken (medium-sized chicken breast)= 21 grams
  • 3 oz fish= 21 grams
  • 1 scoop of protein powder= around 20-30 grams, depending on type and scoop size
  • 1 protein bar= usually around 15-20 grams protein (look for protein bars with 15-20 grams of protein, less than 9g of sugar, and less than 5g of saturated fat)

It’s most important to get small amounts of protein throughout the day. Consume some protein at every meal and snack, between 15-30 grams.

To meet protein needs, 17 year olds should aim for an intake of approximately 5 ½ ounces (servings) of protein foods per day. A deck of cards is about 3 ounces, so it can help to visualize that size to know how many servings to eat.  

Often teens, especially athletes, believe they need to ingest excessive amounts of protein powder to build muscle. Eating plenty of lean or plant-based protein in the diet is just as effective a measure.  

Try these proteins instead of taking too much protein powder

  • Lean meats (i.e. chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef or pork)
  • Fish
  • Nuts butters and nuts
  • Eggs
  • Canned chicken
  • Ground turkey
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Lentils 
  • Beans and peas
  • Hummus 
  • Skinless poultry
  • Seafood of fish
  • Soy foods
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

See also: Dietitian Recommended Protein and Energy Bars for Teens

How Much Fat Should My 17 Year Old Get?

Growing 17 year olds may be worried about fat. However, fat is necessary for a number of body functions and helps improve nutrient absorption. Fat provides energy, promotes healthy brain and nerve development, helps with absorption of certain vitamins, and helps with many other body processes such as creating hormones, storing energy, providing insulation, and more.

Calculate Needs: Teenage boys and girls age 17 should obtain around 25-35% of their calories from healthy (unsaturated) sources of dietary fat. Girls on an 2,000 calorie daily diet should aim for 56-78 grams coming from dietary fat. Boys in this same age range on a 2,500 calorie diet need around 69-97 grams of fat each day. Less than 10% of calories should come from saturated fat.

Healthy fats include food choices with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The following options offer the benefits of fat without an excessive level of calories: 

  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Olives 
  • Fish

Certain kinds of fat should be limited. Saturated and trans fats contribute to poor health and increase disease risk over time and at excessive intakes. Teens can set themselves up for success by opting for the “healthy fat” foods listed above and eating unsaturated fats whenever possible. 

Fat Examples:

Fat is found in butter, lard, margarine, oils, seeds, nuts, avocados, fish, meat, dairy products, processed foods, etc. Here are some common examples of amounts of fat:

  • 1 Tablespoon butter= 12 grams fat
  • 1 Tablespoon margarine= 11 grams fat
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil= 14 grams fat
  • ¼ cup of sunflower seeds= 18 grams
  • ½ medium avocado= 15 grams
  • 3 oz salmon= 11 grams
  • 1 oz (18 chips) potato chips= 10 grams
  • 1 cup lowfat (1%) milk= 2 grams

More Green Food, Less Machine Food

In general, 17 year olds should opt for a balanced diet of whole foods and plants. Foods high in sodium and sugar, often added during the processing stage, can become dangerous in the body. 

It’s common for teens to fill up on less-nutritious snacks and packaged foods such as fast food, vending machine food, and quick on-the-go junk foods.

Try incorporating more of the following whole foods and food groups into your 17 year old’s diet: 

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Low-fat dairy products (or similar alternatives)
  • Fish 
  • Lean meat 
  • Beans 
  • Poultry 

What Specific Nutrients Should 17 Year Olds Eat?

It might seem overwhelming trying to figure out how many servings of each food to eat in a day. The healthiest approach is often to think about which nutrients you need or which food group you may be falling short in. When you work back from there it can seem more manageable. 

Here are some nutrients to focus on:

Vitamins and Minerals for 17-Year Olds

Fruits and vegetables are simply some of the best sources of vitamins and minerals. Whole fruits and veggies and 100% fruit juices are some of the most healthful options. Fresh, frozen, or canned varieties provide plenty of nutrients and make meal prep easy. 

Great Fruit and Vegetable Choices for 17-Year Olds: 

  • Frozen berries
  • Melon slices
  • 100% orange juice
  • Baby carrots
  • Sliced apples
  • Broccoli 
  • Corn 
  • Sliced peppers
  • Frozen peas
  • Leafy green vegetables

Calcium for 17-Year Olds

Teens age 17 should be eating at least 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. Calcium recommendations is at one of the highest points during this time of life because teens need calcium to reach peak bone mass. Establishing good bone health as a teen can potentially reduce risk of fractures later in life. 

Nutrition recommendations for calcium can generally be met by eating three 1-cup servings of dairy foods rich in calcium or three to five 1-cup servings of plant foods rich in calcium. These foods include, but aren’t limited to, the following options: 

  • Low-fat dairy
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese or string cheese
  • Soy milk, yogurt, butter, and calcium-set tofu
  • Vegetable or plant-based oils (i.e. olive, canola, sunflower, safflower)
  • Fortified dairy alternatives
  • Leafy greens, and some beans and nuts

Fiber for 17-Year Olds

Teens should consume between 26-38 grams of dietary fiber each day

Here’s a list of healthful foods and food groups that fiber is naturally found in: 

  • Whole grains (i.e. quinoa, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain crackers)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beans and lentils (canned beans can be a great pantry staple)
  • Popcorn 
  • Seeds (i.e. flaxseed and chia seeds)

Iron Intake for 17-Year Olds

Due to menstruation and the growing blood volume during the teen years, girls are at increased risk for iron-deficiency anemia and need 15 milligrams of iron per day

Boys also need iron especially during this life stage — their lean body mass doubles between ages 10 and 17, and iron supports a healthy growth trajectory. Teenage boys need 11 milligrams of iron daily.

Enriched grain products, such as fortified breakfast cereals, also contain iron. However whole foods often offer a better nutrient profile. Foods naturally high in iron include: 

  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Lean meats
  • Legumes
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Spinach 
  • Raisins

Iron is crucial to immunity and many body functions, so it is a nutrient of increased attention at this life stage. Eating iron sources with vitamin C foods (i.e. citrus, 100% orange juice, grapefruit) helps to increase absorption of iron. 

Six Tips for Healthy 17 Year Olds (And Their Parents) 

Put all those recommendations together and it can be overwhelming to figure out what changes to put in place for the most nutritious diet. Choose 1-2 new habits to work on this week and take small steps at a time.

Here are tips for 17-year olds to improve their eating habits:

  1. Identify problem behaviors (i.e. eating too late at night, drinking too much soda, regular fast food runs, skipping breakfast, limiting vegetables and high-fiber foods, etc.). Choose one thing to work on at a time and make a plan for a week of success, then keep going.
  2. Always keep healthy food and snacks on hand. Teenagers need a lot of food and nutrients and it’s smart to keep healthy on-the-go food available such as trail mix, lowfat yogurt and granola, string cheese, cut up fruits and veggies, hummus and crackers, low sugar energy bars, fruit leather and dried fruit, etc. Hungry teens are more likely to grab food that is fast, easy, and within their sight.
  3. Practice cooking. Developing simple cooking skills before your teen leaves home in a few years is crucial for future health. Begin with basics like boiling water for pasta, making scrambled eggs, chopping veggies, and food safety tips.
  4. Eat a variety of food. Teens get the most nutrients by eating a variety of foods from all the food groups. Try new things and be adventurous in the kitchen.
  5. Model positive patterns. Parents can model positive eating behaviors and provide healthful foods to the family to show what accountable eating looks like. Guardians can also set an example by not focusing on a teen’s feelings of being “gangly” or “too fat”. It’s important to validate feelings, but place the significance of health on the joy of eating well and eating healthily. 
  6. Know that “healthy” doesn’t have a look. Health can occur at any size, and that’s important to keep in mind. Body image is important and can feel concerning, but as long as a teen is receiving the proper amount of nutrients then they should be strong and healthy. Inner health is more indicative of nourishment than external appearance.

If you are interested in weight loss as a teenager, it’s important to learn what advice is real and legitimate, and what just comes from fad diets and harmful sources. I’ve written an e-Book guide and month-long meal plan to help teens establish habits that will help them get to a healthy weight and maintain it. It will help teens develop attitudes and behaviors that will lead to a positive relationship with food and nutrition throughout their lives.

Mockup Teen Weight Loss eBook

The book is available in the Downloads section of my website here – Downloadable Content.

The Bottom Line

On the brink of young adulthood, 17 year olds can take important steps to safeguard their health. Supporting adolescent needs with the right individual combination of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) as well as micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is key to nutritional success. Teens can take healthy skills with them into adulthood as they put positive dietary patterns into place today. 

See Also

Related Questions

How Can I Lose Weight at 17? The best habits for a healthy weight at age 17 is to eat 300-500 fewer calories per day, always stay hydrated, never skip meals, add some activity into your day, eat less packaged and processed food, limit soda and sugary beverages, and eat high protein and high fiber breakfasts. Always make sure you are being monitored by your healthcare team before attempting to lose weight. Weight loss is not recommended for many teens, but adopting healthy habits is recommended for all teens. Check in with a registered dietitian nutritionist if you believe you (or your teen) needs to lose weight.

Should a 17 Year Old Diet? Most 17-year olds don’t need to go on a diet. Developing habits for lifelong health will benefit you much more than losing a few pounds on a quick “crash” diet. Gaining 10-20 pounds in a year can be normal for a teenager, check in with a doctor or dietitian to track if weight trends over time are concerning.

How Many Calories Should a 17 Year Old Eat to Lose Weight? A 17-year old should cut 300 to 500 calories per day in order to lose weight (if weight loss is appropriate). A moderately active 17-year old female would need about 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day to lose weight. A moderately active 17-year old male would need about 2,300 to 2,500 calories per day to lose weight. A weight loss goal of 0.5 to 2 pounds per week is the most sustainable.

How Many Calories Should a 17 Year Old Eat to Gain Weight? A 17-year old should add 300 to 500 calories per day in order to gain weight, that means adding about 1-2 extra snacks per day. A moderately active 17-year old female needs about 2,300 to 2,500 calories per day in order to gain weight. A moderately active 17-year old male needs about 3,100 to 3,300 calories per day in order to gain weight.

What Foods Help Teenagers Gain Weight? Foods that most often contribute to weight gain in teenagers include potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, and other processed fatty foods such as potato chips and french fries. The best foods to eat for healthy weight gain include avocados, fish, oils, butter, potatoes, whole wheat pasta, lean meat and poultry, and whole-fat dairy products.

How Many Calories Does a 17 Year Old Girl Need? A sedentary 17-year old female needs 1,800 calories per day. A moderately active 17-year old female needs 2,000 calories per day, and an active (40 minutes of activity per day or more) 17-year old female needs around 2,400 calories per day. Calorie needs vary based on age, size, sex, activity levels, and other factors.


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How Many Calories Does My Teen Need? Published October 4, 2019. 

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition for Growing Bodies. Published May 28, 2020. 

Ansel K. 7 Kitchen Staples for Teen-Friendly Meals. Published March 9, 2018. 

Coleman E. Nutrition Difference Between Teenage Girls & Boys. Published December 9, 2018.  

Davis N. How to Eat Healthy and Well at 16 Years Old. Published January 18, 2019. 

Institutes of Medicine. Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI). Accessed April 2021. 

Johnson A. Teach Your Teen about Nutrition Facts Panels. Published June 24, 2020. 

John Muir Health. Nutrition for Teens. Accessed April 2021.  

McCoy W. Healthy Diet for a 17 Year Old. Accessed April 2021.  

Ryan M. Give Your Teen’s Iron a Boost. Published April 2, 2019. 

United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Published December 29, 2020. 

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

Recent Posts