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Calories and Protein, How Much Does My Teen Actually Need?

It is no surprise that a child’s teen years are a stage of rapid growth and development. Teens are changing physically, emotionally, and cognitively - with nutrition playing an important role. While a teen’s nutritional needs are similar to their pre-teen counterparts, they are not identical.

Helping your teen understand the significance of nutrition in their life can help set them up for successful independent eating. Two important building blocks of a balanced diet are adequate protein intake and calorie consumption. Let’s talk about how to calculate their calorie and protein intake, but before we do that we need to understand their activity level.


Determining Your Teen’s Activity Level

Identifying how active your teen is is an important factor involved in figuring out the calorie and macronutrient needs for your child. Thinking about their daily activities, what activity level category does your child fall under?

Not Active: Your teen is primarily sedentary with minimal energy used throughout the day.  Activities they spend most of their time enjoying could include: reading, writing, video games, watching movies, drawing. 

Somewhat Active: Your teen is active for around 30 minutes to 40 minutes a day, but they spend most of their free time sedentary. This could include walking to school or around the neighborhood, riding their bike, or walking for less than 3 miles a day. 

Active: Your teen is considered to have an active lifestyle if they spend a lot of their energy doing activities throughout the day. They are probably on a sports team, exercise daily, or walk for more than 3 miles a day.


Calculating Calories for Your Teen

Caloric needs vary for adults, teens and children. These needs vary depending on age, gender, height and activity level, with calorie needs being higher during the teenage years when compared to any other time of life according to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Gender is another variable that determines caloric needs and expenditure. This is due to the differences in weight, metabolic rates, and the amount of lean muscle mass. 

For teens specifically, the chart below gives a great overview of the calories needed for 13-19 year olds: 

Calorie Chart

 

Having adequate calories in your teen’s diet is important for them to thrive. Too little calories can cause them to experience a lack of concentration, lack of energy, irritability or delay development. Too many calories could cause unwanted weight gain and other health problems. 

With that being said it’s so important to note that calorie counting can be harmful and daily estimates are perfectly acceptable. It’s all about establishing a healthy relationship with the foods we consume to fuel our bodies, not the caloric number associated with said foods. 

 

Calculating Protein for Your Teen

Although all macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) are important for pre-teen development, protein is the “major structural component of all cells in the body” according to the Institute of Medicine. Protein plays a crucial role in providing energy as well as building and repairing muscles. 

 

How much protein does your teen need? 

Like calories, the amount is determined by gender, age, and activity level. In general, according to a North Dakota State University publication, teenage boys need about 52 grams of protein per day, while teenage girls need about 46 grams per day. However, if you are small or large for your age, or very active, your needs are different.

Examples of good sources of protein include: 

  • Eggs
  • Meat, Poultry, Fish
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Tofu
  • Legumes, Beans, Peas

 

Setting Your Child Up For Successful Eating

As your teens become more independent, involving them in their food choices can help set them up for successful independent eating.

Allowing your teen to join you at the grocery store and letting them choose between meal options can help them feel independent and excited to eat the food they pick out. This may be a bit of a stretch, but getting your teen to help you prepare meals and pack lunches is also a great way to get them to learn how to choose healthy options in the future. 

Fostering independence and empowering your teens with the right information to fuel their bodies will help to set a healthy tone with their food choices in the years to come. 

The content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.