What Is Protein And Why Is It Important For Teens

What Is Protein And Why Is It Important For Teens

Protein, Protein, and Protein.

It seems like everyone is singing the praises of protein. People value protein for weight loss, muscle gain, building lean tissue or just for general good health and wellbeing. Whether it is in the form of food or protein shakes, individuals are striving to include more protein in their diet. Why all the hype?

Protein has numerous functions in the body, ranging from building muscle to supporting a healthy immune system. But our dietary requirements are relatively small when compared to the importance of protein.

Teenagers experience growth spurts and continuous development, not to mention how busy they are with school and extracurricular activities. That means their body relies on protein for optimal growth and performance, making their daily requirements higher than an adult’s.


What Is Protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient that provides energy to the body. Like carbohydrates, each gram of protein gives us 17 kJ1. When the protein in our food is digested it is broken down to its simplest form – amino acids2. There are twenty amino acids that combine to form different kinds of protein structures. They are not stored in the body, so they either need to be made from scratch or they need to be made available from food3.

TMost amino acids can be made in the body from other molecules. But, there are nine essential amino acids that your body cannot make. They are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. They have to come from the food you eat.

Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins; protein provides the structure for numerous tissues and molecules in the body. The most familiar job of protein is to build and repair muscle tissue. Protein is also used in bone, skin, hair, nails and connective tissue – cartilage and tendons. Without protein we would have no enzymes, hormones or antibodies4.

Clearly, protein is an essential nutrient for the entire human body. If our needs are not being met, things can start going wrong.



Protein In Food

All the protein we need can be provided by the food we eat. There is a variety of dietary sources of protein5:

  • Animal protein: Meat, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy products. Animal protein is a complete protein. In other words it provides the body with the entire spectrum of amino acids – both non-essential and essential.
  • Plant protein – Beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, seeds and wholegrains. Plant proteins generally contain lower amounts of certain essential amino acids. E.g. beans contain lower amounts of the essential amino acid methionine. The latter is present in grain, nuts and seeds. That is why it is recommended to consume protein from a wide variety of sources if one is following a plant-based diet.
  • Protein powders/shakes – The protein in protein powders and shakes is derived from egg, milk or plant sources such as peas, nuts or seeds. Products are formulated to provide a complete protein supplement that provides the body with the full range of amino acids.



How Much Protein Does Your Teenager Need?

With all the hype over protein you would think that our protein requirements are high. In fact, the amount the body needs to meet its needs is actually quite small. Protein is a source of energy, but its primary functions are to build and repair body tissues, and to produce enzymes, antibodies and hormones.

The World Health Organisation recommends that teenagers eat approximately 0,9g of protein per kilogram of body weight6. So, if your teen weighs 70kg, they will need 63g of protein per day. If the only protein source was chicken, for example, that would be 360g of chicken. Thirty to forty grams of protein food contains roughly seven grams of protein. The recommendation for girls drops to 0,8g of protein per kilogram per day between the ages of fifteen and eighteen6.

A teenager’s protein requirement is higher than that of an adult. Protein is essential to support the growth and development that takes place in the teen years. Our teens are also very busy with school and sports. Their diet needs to keep up with them so that they can give their best effort in the classroom and on the sports field.

Overall you are aiming for your teen to get between ten and thirty percent of their daily energy from protein6. Research has shown that it is best to spread it out evenly throughout the day, splitting the protein requirement across all meals7. A sample meal plan could look like this:


Breakfast: Poached eggs on wholewheat toast with grilled tomato
Lunchbox: Cheese, lettuce and cucumber sandwich, a handful of nuts and an apple
Lunch: Chickpea and butternut salad with pumpkin seeds
Snack: Yoghurt, hummus on whole wheat crackers and a banana
Dinner: Grilled fish, baby potatoes and lots of veggies


If your teen is a fussy eater and doesn’t enjoy many protein foods, or if they are so busy they often forget to eat, you can use a protein shake to boost their energy and protein intake8. It helps to ensure your teen’s body can function optimally.
Protein Is An Essential Nutrient For Teens
By meeting your teen’s protein requirements you will be supporting optimal growth and development through the teenage years. Your adolescent needs more protein in their diet than you do. Eating regular, balanced meals will help to ensure that your teen has enough protein in their diet. If they struggle to eat protein foods or often forget to eat, there are many useful protein shakes available to give your teen’s nutrition a boost.

Protein is an essential macronutrient that works hard in the human body. The hype is definitely worth it.



1. Lonnie M, Hooker E, Brunstrom J, Corfe B, Green M, Watson A, et al. Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 Mar 16 [cited 2021 Nov 23];(3):360. Available from:
2. Sousa R, Portmann R, Dubois S, Recio I, Egger L. Protein digestion of different protein sources using the INFOGEST static digestion model. Food Research International [Internet]. 2020 Apr [cited 2021 Nov 23];108996. Available from:
3. Lopez MJ. Biochemistry, Essential Amino Acids – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf [Internet]. National Center for Biotechnology Information. [cited 2021 Nov 23]. Available from:
4. Murray JE, Laurieri N, Delgoda R. Proteins. In: Pharmacognosy [Internet]. Elsevier; 2017. p. 477–94. Available from:
5. Watford M, Wu G. Protein. Advances in Nutrition [Internet]. 2018 Jul 27 [cited 2021 Nov 23];(5):651–3. Available from:
6. Hörnell A, Lagström H, Lande B, Thorsdottir I. Protein intake from 0 to 18 years of age and its relation to health: a systematic literature review for the 5th Nordic Nutrition Recommendations. Food & Nutrition Research [Internet]. 2013 Jan [cited 2021 Nov 23];(1):21083. Available from:
7. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW. The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [Internet]. 2013 Dec [cited 2021 Nov 23];(1). Available from:
8. Samal JRK, Samal IR. Protein Supplements: Pros and Cons. Journal of Dietary Supplements [Internet]. 2017 Sep 22 [cited 2021 Nov 23];(3):365–71. Available from:

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