Center for Young Women's Health

Protein

 

Remember

  • Protein is vital for your body's health.
  • Most teens need to eat/drink 40-50g of protein a day.
  • Protein supplements aren't necessary if you eat a healthy diet.

Protein is needed to build and repair your muscles, make hair and skin, fight against infections, and carry oxygen in your blood. Proteins are made up of about twenty different building blocks called amino acids. Your body can make some amino acids, but there are nine that can't be made (we call these "essential amino acids"), and the only way to get them is through the food you eat. It's important to eat a variety of protein foods every day to make sure your body gets all of the essential amino acids.

 

What foods are high in protein?

Plant foods such as legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), nuts, peanut butter, seeds, and soy foods like soybeans, soymilk, and tofu are all high in protein. Animal foods such as meat, fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt are also good sources of protein.

 

How much protein do I need each day?

The amount of protein that you need daily, or the recommended daily allowance (RDA), depends on your age and body size, but most teens need between 40 and 60 grams of protein each day. To figure out exactly how much you need, you'll need to do a little math.

 

If you are 11-13 years old: Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.455; this gives you about how many grams of protein you need each day. For example, a 12 year-old who weighs 100 lbs would need about 45.5 grams of protein (100 lbs x 0.455 = 45.5).

 

If you are 15-18 years old: Multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36 to estimate how many grams of protein you need each day. For example, a 16 year-old female who weighs 120 lbs would need about 43 grams of protein (120 lbs x 0.36 = 43.2).

 

Keep in mind that this is just an estimate. Now that you know about how much protein you should eat every day, it's helpful to know how much protein is in the foods you eat.

 

The table below lists some good sources of protein and the grams of protein in each serving.

 

Food
Serving Size Grams of protein per serving
Tuna 3 ounces 22 grams
Hamburger 3 ounces 21 grams
Chicken 3 ounces 21 grams
Shrimp 3 ounces 18 grams
Tempeh ½ cup 15 grams
Yogurt 1 cup 11 grams
Tofu ½ cup 9 grams
Lentils, cooked ½ cup 8 grams
Cow's milk 1 cup 8 grams
Peanut butter 2 tbsp 8 grams
Kidney beans, cooked ½ cup 8 grams
Cheese 1 ounce 7 grams
Egg, cooked 1 large 7 grams
Soy milk 1 cup 6 grams
Hummus 1/3 cup 6 grams
Miso 2 tbsp 4 grams
Quinoa ½ cup 4 grams
Bulgur, kasha, oats, cooked ½ cup 3 grams

What's the deal with protein supplements?

There are many different protein supplements that come as powders, shakes, and bars.

 

If you're thinking of taking a protein supplement, keep these facts in mind:

Be sure to talk to your health care provider (and dietitian) if you're taking a protein supplement or you're thinking about taking one.

 

How often should I eat foods with protein in them?

Because protein is a filling nutrient, it's a good idea to eat some at every meal and at most snacks to keep you satisfied. The table below includes some easy ways for you to get in protein throughout the day.

 

Breakfast
Snack Lunch Dinner
Whole wheat toast with peanut butter String cheese Lean cold-cuts with vegetables and cheese (in a sandwich or wrap) Baked or grilled fish
Scrambled eggs (or egg substitute) with cheese and salsa, rolled in a whole wheat tortilla Yogurt Chili with cornbread Turkey burger
Poached egg on a whole grain English muffin Hummus with carrots Bean burrito Stir-fried tofu or chicken with vegetables

 

Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital

 

Updated: 12/27/2012

 

Related Guides:

Legumes

Foods such as beans and lentils are known as legumes. Legumes are good sources of protein and fiber, and are used in many different cuisines...

 

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating is a way of balancing the food you eat to keep your body strong, energized, and well nourished...

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