Most people think of protein as the nutrient that helps you build muscle. While that is true, it is important for a lot of other reasons as well and should still be consumed by teenagers if they aren’t wanting to gain muscle and “bulk up.” It is important to eat a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat to ensure that your body has all of the nutrients it needs to function properly!
A 13-year old girl should eat at least 46 grams of protein daily, and a 13-year old boy should eat at least 52 grams of protein daily, per the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). About 10-35% of daily calories should come from protein. However, protein needs will differ based on activity level, body weight, and energy needs, so your individual protein needs might be slightly different from someone else who is the same age as you.
Read on for more information about why protein is important, protein needs for 13-year olds, foods that are high in protein, information about protein supplements, and more!
Why is Protein Important?
Protein has many responsibilities in the body and helps out with a lot of different things! Here are just a few of the things that protein does to help your body: How Much Protein Does a 16-Year Old Need?
- Helps keep you feeling satisfied after a meal or snack
- Helps repair and build muscle
- Helps to sustain your energy levels for longer
- Helps to keep your hair and nails healthy and strong
- Keeps your blood sugar levels more stabilized
- Strengthens your immune system
- Makes up carriers that deliver nutrients to all over your body
- Helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure
Can you tell now why protein is so important for the growing body of a teenager? Since protein is involved in so many different things, eating enough is especially important for someone who’s body is still developing.
Protein Needs for 13-Year Olds
The general nutrition guidelines for Americans say that 10-35% of your total calorie needs should be coming from protein sources. One gram of protein is equal to about 4 calories, so you can calculate what that range of protein intake would be for you depending on how many calories you need during the day.
For example, a 13-year old girl that needs 1800 calories per day would need between 45-157.5 grams of protein. That is a pretty huge range! To help narrow down your specific protein needs, here are a few more recommendations and calculations that are available to you.
MyPlate is a website developed by the US Department of Agriculture based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It recommends about 5 ounce-equivalents of protein for 13-year olds throughout the day. An ounce equivalent would include:
- One ounce of meat, poultry, or fish
- 1 tbsp nut butter
- ½ ounce of nuts or seeds
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup cooked legumes
If you aren’t reaching these protein recommendations, that would be a great place to start. However, it still might be a bit of a low protein recommendation for some teenagers.
Calculating Protein Needs for 13-Year Olds
Another way of calculating protein needs is based on what your current body weight is and your activity level. Athletes will typically need more protein than non-athletes because they are putting more stress on their body, they often have higher calorie needs, and many have a different body composition. Use body weight in pounds for the calculations shown below.
- Non-athletes: Body weight (in pounds) x 0.3-0.4
- Athletes: Body weight (in pounds) x 0.45-0.6
For example, a 13-year old male athlete that weighs about 150 pounds (68 kg) would need between 68-90 grams of protein per day. Here are some more examples of protein needs for 13-year olds based on this recommendation:
|80 pounds (36 kg)
|24-32 grams of protein
|36-48 grams of protein
|90 pounds (41 kg)
|100 pounds (45 kg)
|110 pounds (50 kg)
|120 pounds (55 kg)
|130 pounds (59 kg)
|140 pounds (64 kg)
|150 pounds (68 kg)
|160 pounds (73 kg)
|170 pounds (77 kg)
|180 pounds (82 kg)
|190 pounds (86 kg)
|200 pounds (91 kg)
If the math feels overwhelming to you, I encourage all teenagers to meet with a dietitian at some point to make sure all of their nutrition needs are being met. Not only can they do all of the math for you, but they will also be able to determine where in these ranges your needs might fall. A dietitian can also help you create a meal plan that meets all of your protein needs and works with your schedule and food preferences.
Do Athletes Need Extra Protein?
Typically, athletes do need more protein than the average person. However, don’t feel like you need to be eating excessive amounts of protein to see an improvement in athletic performance. It is more important to eat a moderate amount of protein regularly, every 3-5 hours or so, to help stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Timing your protein intake and pairing that with strength training is a great way to recover faster, build muscle, decrease muscle soreness, and lead to an overall improvement in performance.
Should 13-Year Olds Eat More Protein To Gain Muscle?
Muscles do not grow bigger just from eating protein, they grow bigger from exercise, regular growth spurts, and eating healthily. If you are eating enough protein, eating more won’t help muscles grow bigger.
13-year olds need healthy habits to encourage their bodies during this period of growth to build more muscle. Growth hormone is most active during sleep, so make sure you are getting plenty of sleep as well.
What Foods Are High in Protein?
Wondering if you are getting enough protein with what you are currently eating? Protein amounts will differ between foods, but here are a few good food sources of protein:
- Deli meat
- Soy products
- Nut butters
- Greek yogurt
- Beans and legumes
Remember that pairing protein foods with other foods that contain carbohydrates is important for providing your body with sustained energy. Many protein foods also contain some fat, but if you choose a leaner protein, you can add some healthy fats to your meal or snack too!
What is the Healthiest Source of Protein?
The best way to go about meeting your protein needs is by eating a variety of plant and animal based sources. When eating animal sources of protein, look for lower fat, leaner options because those tend to have more saturated fat (which is not the healthy kind of fat).
Red meat, sausage, salami, beef, etc. are going to have a higher amount of saturated fat. In fact, when you cook them, you can usually see all of the grease that comes with it! It can help to rinse ground beef and sausage or remove excess grease when cooking with some of these higher fat foods.
Fish on the other hand, actually contains a good amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Including fish a couple times per week is a great way to include more protein and heart-healthy fats in your diet.
Plant-based protein sources like nuts, seeds, edamame, soy milk, tofu, etc. are another great protein option. Rather than cutting out all meats from your diet, I recommend just picking one meal a week where you focus on adding in more plant-based protein foods.
Best Protein Foods for 13-Year Olds
It can be easy to eat the same thing all the time, but it’s best to get protein from many different sources. Here are some of my top recommended protein foods for 13-year olds:
- trail mix with nuts and seeds
- energy bars (Larabars are my favorite)
- roasted chickpeas
- PB&J sandwich
- nut butter with fruit, rice cakes, bread, or crackers
- milk or chocolate milk
- Greek yogurt
- bean burritos
- homemade protein shakes/smoothies (use greek yogurt, seeds, nut butter, protein powder, and milk)
- hummus dip
- cheese sticks
- canned tuna or tuna packets
- homemade energy protein bites
- deli meat roll ups
- cottage cheese
- overnight oats or oatmeal packets
Is Protein Powder OK for 13-Year Olds?
Protein powder can be a tricky one. While there are 13-year olds that can benefit from a protein supplement, you must follow these guidelines when choosing one to use:
- Check that it is a high quality brand that has been tested by a third party for safety and label accuracy. You might be surprised at how many protein powders are contaminated with dangerous and illegal substances that can be harmful to your body!
- Food first! Then supplement where needed. Make sure it is used to supplement an already healthy and protein-rich diet. Remember that protein powder is not required for meeting overall protein needs, but it can be a quick and convenient protein source. If a teen is using protein powder to meet most of their protein needs, I would recommend meeting with a dietitian to figure out a better meal plan and to figure out where protein supplements can fit in.
- Use it in appropriate amounts. Most teenagers need between 10-25 grams of protein at a time (some may need more depending on their individual needs), which isn’t even a whole scoop of protein powder (depending on the brand) . It can be easy to go overboard with powders without even realizing it. Look at the nutrition facts label to figure out how many grams of protein are in a serving and how many scoops are in a serving. You don’t always have to use the full serving size if you don’t need it!
- Check with your doctor first! I always recommend asking your doctor before starting any kind of supplement, no matter what age you are.
You can absolutely meet all of your protein needs without using protein powder, and most 13-year olds probably don’t need to use protein supplements very frequently, if at all. However, it can be helpful in some cases, especially if teens have allergies, specific food and dietary preferences, higher protein needs, medical conditions making it hard to eat whole foods, needing quick protein on the go, or if they are following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Learn more about teenagers and protein supplements here:
- The Best Protein Snacks for Teenagers
- Is It Okay for a Teenager to Drink Protein Shakes
- Is Whey Protein Safe for Teenage Athletes? Here’s What Dietitians Recommend
- Dietitian Recommended Protein and Energy Bars for Teens
Can You Eat Too Much Protein?
Yes! More is not always better when it comes to protein intake. The main reason why teens should avoid eating too much protein is that it can sometimes take the place of other important nutrients that their body needs.
Your body also needs carbohydrates, fat, and vitamins and minerals that aren’t found in protein foods. Since protein also makes you feel more full, eating too much might result in eating too few overall calories.
What Happens if You Don’t Eat Enough Protein?
While it’s not good to eat too much protein, it is also not good to eat too little protein. Remember the list above that shows tons of things that protein does for your body? Well, you can imagine that it is not going to be good if you don’t get enough.
If you don’t get enough protein throughout one day you’ll feel pretty tired and fatigued, low energy, irritable, you’ll have a harder time concentrating, and your blood sugar will spike and crash which could lead to unhealthy cravings and an increased appetite.
If you don’t get enough protein long term it can lead to nutrient deficiencies, slowed growth, poor wound healing, constant fatigue and low energy, low muscle mass, mood swings, and trouble losing weight.
Rather than stressing about counting every gram of protein you eat during the day, it can be more helpful to just focus on getting a good source of protein at all of your meals and snacks. Recognize how different foods and different protein amounts make your body feel to help you know if you are eating enough throughout the day!
There are a lot of factors that determine a teenager’s protein needs and it might take a little bit of experimentation to figure out the right balance of carbs, protein, and fat that will work for you.
Remember that you don’t have to figure it out all on your own. Reach out to a dietitian for help! Nutrition can get confusing and with so much information available on the internet and in other places, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. Working with a nutrition professional can make sure you are nourishing your body appropriately and will help you make a plan that is simple and easy to follow!
- How Much Should a 13-Year-Old Weigh?
- What is Underweight for a 13-Year Old?
- Easy Things for a 13-Year Old to Cook
- What is the Best Diet Plan for a 13-Year Old?
Castle J. How Teen Athletes Can Build Muscle with Protein. Eatright.org Published July 21, 2020.
Ellis E. How Much Protein Should I Eat? Eatright.org Published December 15, 2020.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Protein Foods. Myplate.gov. Based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025.
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