by Kim Beavers, MS, RD, LD, CDE

Headlines abound about the nutritional benefits of eating protein and I agree protein is very important. It is important in the context of a healthy diet just like fat and carbohydrates. That crazy word “moderate” comes into play like it does with all things nutrition. Marketing wants us on the extreme side of things, think of it like a see-saw—-the fun part is when the see-saw swings from high to low (eat more of this, eat less of this) while the middle balanced position is a bit on the boring side. See-saws and wild swings up and down not only remind me of nutrition headlines but of teenage mood swings. As a parent visualize yourself standing on the middle of the see-saw, one foot on each side trying to hold it in balance — that is what managing the swings of a teenager feels like (think of it as a fun little challenge vs. a stressor—-ha). Now back to nutrition, your teen may have swings in their nutrition desires as well as mood.  Often I will hear of teens who go vegetarian or teen athletes who load up on protein in the name of performance. I love that teens have interest in nutrition and recognize that nutrition has an impact on health and performance. However during this time of rapid growth and development balanced nutrition is extremely important.

How much protein is needed? A great question!

Teens need 0.4-0.5g protein per pound of body weight.

Teen athletes need a little more protein at about 0.5-0.8g protein per pound body weight.

It is ideal for both teens and adults to eat adequate protein and to distribute protein throughout the day (some at each meal and snack).  For example a teenager weighing 140 pounds would need 56-70g of protein; this equates to 15-20g per meal and 5-10 grams or so at snack time. If the same teenager were an athlete they would need 70-112g protein which equates to 20-30g protein per meal and 5-10g at snack time.

The teen years are a time of intense growth second only to infancy and adequate calories from protein, carbohydrate and fat is important to sustain this time of rapid growth. Striking a balance is important. Protein bars and supplements are often marketed to athletes as they do have higher protein needs than non-athletes.  Eating extra protein does not build muscles on its own. Eating adequate protein supports muscle growth and repair when combined with exercise.  During exercise, running, weight lifting or other physical activity some muscle cells breakdown, protein from food helps repair the damage, builds muscle and improves strength.

What is the best protein source? Protein from food is always the preferred source and many foods provide protein. This table provides an approximation of the amount of protein provided by food categories.


What about protein supplements and powders? Are they necessary? The short answer is no. Most of the time protein needs can be met from foods eaten in meals and snacks. It is wise especially while you still have influence (though fleeting) to encourage teens to eat protein in the form of food verses supplements. Protein from whole foods provides other beneficial nutrients such as zinc, iron, calcium, B vitamins and more.

What about protein bars? Grab and go bar type snacks come in quite handy and come in many varieties. Homemade foods always reign supreme but life and hurried schedules dictate the need to rely on pre-made bars from time to time. My advice there is to choose the bar with the simplest ingredient list, minimal added sugar with a flavor and texture your teen enjoys.

Backpack Bagel

This handy snack packs in some whole grains, texture and natural sweetness.

1 whole-wheat mini bagel

1 Tbsp Peanut Butter

1 Tbsp Grape Nuts (can substitute sunflower seeds)

½ small banana, sliced (can substitute 1 tablespoon dried cherries)

Spread peanut butter on half of the bagel.  Top with grape nuts and banana slices.  Cover with the other half of the bagel.

Yield: 1 serving

Nutrient Breakdown: Calories 241, Fat 9g (2g saturated, 4g monounsaturated), Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 260mg, Carbohydrate 36g, Fiber 4g, Protein 9g protein

Kim Beavers is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator for University Health Care System. She lives in North Augusta with her husband and two children and she is the co-host of the culinary nutrition segment Eating Well with Kim, which airs at noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday on WRDW. To be notified of new recipes join Kim’s facebook fan page at To search for specific recipes go to You can also watch the segments at


This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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