On Your Health

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Can a Teenage Boy Eat Too Much Protein?

Welcome to the third edition of March's Ask the Expert, which features Registered Dietitian Kelsey Duncan from the INTEGRIS Health Weight Loss Center. Each Tuesday in March, Kelsey will answer your nutrition questions submitted via social media in honor of  National Nutrition Month.

Is there such a thing as too much protein? My 15-year-old son is constantly hungry, and eats so much meat every day, mainly in the form of ham and turkey sandwiches and hot dogs. I bet he would eat 10 hot dogs a day if I let him. Should I be worried that he’s eating too much protein? What happens if he eats too much consistently?

Protein does many great things for the body. Your body uses protein to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals and to build and repair tissues. It can also help heal wounds, prevent fatigue, keep the immune system functioning and provide energy for daily activities. It is especially important for teens who are constantly going through periods of growth and development to get the right amount and types of protein.

I turned to Tiffany Poe, INTEGRIS Health bariatric dietitian to answer this question.

“If a teenage boy is drinking enough water there should not be too much concern about him eating too much protein. However, we want to look at the ‘whole picture’ when it comes to his diet,” she said.

She continued, “I would recommend decreasing his intake of processed meats since research has suggested high intake of those foods can increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. The risk of cancer increased as the consumption of processed meats increased. Studies show that compared to eating no processed meat, eating 3.5 ounces every day (equivalent to a large hot dog) increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 36 percent.”

For this reason alone I would caution that it is not only important to get enough protein each day, it is also important to aim for a variety of protein foods, from both animal and plants sources. Good sources of animal-based dietary protein include lean beef, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs and low-fat dairy products. Plant-based protein foods include soy products, peanut butter, nuts and seeds, and legumes including pinto beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, navy beans and black beans.

A teenage boy should get between 10 and 35 percent of his daily calories from protein, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The amount of protein a teen needs depends on height, weight, gender and activity level, but according to (the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) kids and teens need about .5 to .8 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. In general, this breaks down to most teenage boys needing about 52 grams of protein per day, while teenage girls need about 46 grams per day. However, if teens are small or large for their age, or very active, their needs are different.

To put that into perspective, consider this information from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • 3 ounce portion of chicken breast provides 27 grams of protein
  • 1 egg provides 6 grams of protein
  • 3 ounce portion of lean beef provides 21 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese provides 28 grams of protein
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain about 8 grams of protein 

A final note: it is important to spread your protein intake throughout the day. The typical Western diet includes no or minimal amounts of protein with breakfast, and the largest amount of protein is eaten at dinner.

You should aim for your teenage boy to have some protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner -- because protein is a filling nutrient, it will keep him satisfied and full longer. Include protein with his snacks if you feel he isn’t meeting those daily needs.

Kelsey Duncan, M.S., RD, LD, is a dietitian at the INTEGRIS Health Weight Loss Center.