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What Are Our Protein Needs as We Grow Up and Grow Older?

Eating enough protein is important for healthy bones and muscles, especially as people get older or children are growing. But how much protein should you eat? The answer depends on your age, body weight, gender and activity level.

Toddlers (1 to 3 years)

Toddlers on a per body weight basis need to eat the most protein, but this only comes out to a recommendation of 13 grams a day. Two 8-ounce cups of milk, for example, provide 16 grams of protein.


Children (4 to 13 years)

Older kids need more total protein than toddlers but less per pound of body weight.

Generally, girls and boys ages 4 to 8 should strive to get 19 grams of protein a day. For perspective, 3 ounces of 93% lean beef, a little less beef than what can be found in many burger patties, provides 22 grams of protein. Due to their bigger bodies, protein needs increase to about 34 grams per day for kids between 9 and 13.


Adolescents (13 to 18)

The recommended amount of protein for girls ages 13 to 18 is 46 grams of protein a day, an amount also recommended for women. During this age, boys need more protein per pound of body weight than girls. Boys should try to consume 52 grams of protein. Kids who are participating in sports, training for an event or starting to work out should eat more protein. Try sending nuts, bars, yogurt or jerky to school with your active kids. They probably could use the extra protein and energy.


Adults (18 to 65)

Men need 10 grams of protein more per day than women. Technically, men need 56 grams and women need 46 grams of protein per day. Naturally, pregnant and nursing women need more protein. Other factors including physical activity and diet also impact protein needs in adulthood. Like younger people, adults who are physically active - either at work or for fun - have greater protein needs. Lastly, adults who are trying to lose weight also need more protein to protect from muscle loss. If you are active, add protein-rich foods. If your goal is losing weight, try substituting protein-rich foods for other less healthful options.


Older Adults (65 years and older)

Although the recommended intake for those 65 and older is the same as for other adults, recent studies suggest that eating more protein may preserve muscle and function as we get older. But eating more protein at an older age can be challenging due to problems with appetite, food preparation or chewing. If you feel as if you are struggling to eat enough protein, consider buying a protein supplement. They are not just for athletes and bodybuilders.


Nathaniel Johnson, NDSU doctoral student, Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, and NDSU Extension program assistant

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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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