Getting your teenage girl to eat just the right amount of protein is important for her growth and development. Protein, which serves as an energy source in the body, builds strong muscles and protects cells throughout her body. The exact amount of protein she needs depends on her weight and activity level though, so discuss the matter with your pediatrician before making any big changes to her diet.
1. Recommended Dietary Allowance
Following the recommended dietary allowance -- or RDA for short -- is a solid starting point for figuring out your daughter’s protein needs. According to the guidelines set forth by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a preteen girl between the ages of 9 and 13 needs 34 grams of protein daily. Between ages 14 and 19, she needs 46 grams of protein a day.
2. Getting More Specific
Of course, the RDA is just a stepping stone for figuring out your teen’s protein requirements -- she may actually need more or less. You might want to calculate her protein needs based on a percentage of her daily caloric intake. If she’s 9 to 18 years old, between 10 to 30 percent of her total daily calories should come from protein. But at and after 19 years of age, she’ll need to get 10 to 35 percent of her total daily calories from protein. When figuring out the math, remember that protein has 4 calories per gram. If she follows a 2,000-calorie daily diet and is 16- years-old, for example, she’ll need to consume 200 to 600 calories from protein, which is between 50 to 150 grams.
3. Special Considerations
If your teenage girl is highly active, she should probably aim for the higher end of the percentage range to support her vigorous activity level. But if she’s pretty sedentary, it might be better for her to stick to the lower end of the range. This way, she won’t be going overboard on calories, which can lead to weight gain.
4. Where to Get It
Generally, meat, fish and poultry each contain 22 grams of protein per three-ounce serving, give or take a couple grams. So, if she has three ounces of tuna at lunch and then has a small chicken breast at dinner, she will get approximately 45 grams of protein. Plus, if she tends to drink an 8-ounce glass of milk with her meals, she’s getting another 8 grams of protein per glass. Don’t worry if your teenager is a picky eater or refuses to eat animal-based products. She can still get all the protein she needs from beans, legumes, whole grains and soy foods. The only concern is that these foods are incomplete proteins, meaning they’re lacking one or more essential amino acids. All you need to do is make sure she eats a variety of these plant proteins; her body will put together the amino acids she needs from them.