How to Turn Your Teenage Athlete Into a Sports Legend

Posted August 18, 2009 in Your Questions 12 Comments »
Your Questions
Your Questions

I get plenty of questions in various comments throughout the website, but I also get comments and questions via the Project Swole Contact Form.

Generally I address those questions through e-mail, but often I do not have the time to reply to each and every question personally.

The category, Your Health Questions is a more proactive approach to answering your questions so that everyone can benefit from the Q & A.

Jim wrote:

“I wanted to know about how much protein my 14 year old should be having.

He is playing football and weightlifting at school. (Freshman). He is 5’8 and 112 lbs.

He wants to add some weight and muscle but we heard that you should not give your teen protein because they will start to grow outward instead of height-wise.

What do you recommend?”


Whoever told you that “you should not give your teen protein because they will start to grow outward instead of height-wise,” is on crack.

Teenage Male Athlete
Teenage Male Athlete

Obviously if your teen eats too much protein and thus too many calories overall, he or she will get fat. On the other hand, protein is vital to muscle growth and development and in my opinion, active teens should be taught to eat a diet with moderate protein, low saturated/trans fats, and low sugars/starchy carbs.

It is absurd to think that an increase in protein will affect your kid’s height development. He will ultimately be as tall as his DNA allows, although messing with substances like anabolic steroids could fuse his growth plates, thus putting an end to vertical growth. Protein will have no such effect.

The teenage years are important in shaping your teen’s body type and health habits in the years to come. At age 14, he is a prime candidate to begin weight training and to increase his protein consumption in conjunction.

Now, I am not saying he should be drinking 4 protein shakes a day. Rather, I suggest you increase his protein consumption through regular food by increasing the frequency of lean meats, nuts, and legumes in his diet.

Which Foods Should Teenage Athletes Eat

I recommend low fat, but not necessarily fat free, dairy products (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese), poultry (chicken, turkey), eggs, seafood (tuna, haddock, salmon), beans (baked, kidney, red, black), and nuts (peanuts, walnuts, almonds), as well as all the fruits and vegetables he can tolerate.

Limit his intake of anything made from pigs and cows, including steak, ground beef, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs; ham and pork chops are OK. I’m not saying to avoid these foods, just limit them relative to the better foods.

He should drink more water than he knows what to do with. A gallon a day is not out of the question.

But now he will want to know the answer to the original question, “how much protein should I eat“?

How Much Protein Teenage Athletes Should Eat

Teenage Female Athlete
Teenage Female Athlete

At 112 lbs and 5’8, your son probably could stand to gain significant muscle mass over the next 4 years. I would set a short term target weight of 130 lbs, thereby setting his protein intake at 130 grams a day.

Yes, that’s 1 gram of protein per pound of short-term target bodyweight.

That would be 3 meals with 25-30 grams of protein per meal and 3 snacks with 12-18 grams of protein per meal. If he responds well to it, that number could be increased to 150 grams a day or more within a couple months.

If he is a hard gainer, make sure he is ingesting enough calories to grow. A physical teen of his stature wishing to pack on as much muscle mass as possible, could be looking at upwards of 3500-4000 calories a day, or more during preseason football 2-a-day practice sessions.

Both protein consumption and calorie consumption should increase as his bodyweight and muscle mass increases. Just be sure not to increase calories too hastily, as you don’t want your teen getting fat.

He could gain as much as 4 pounds in one month, but if he’s starting to see an average gain of 2-3 pounds a week, have him check his bodyfat levels since that much weight gain could be indicative of calories consumed being greater than calories burned.

How Teenage Athletes Should Exercise

Please make sure your teen learns how to train properly. If his weight room education is taking place at school, with a knowledgeable coach or trainer, he should be OK. But if he and his buddies are getting together to do curls and bench presses, he’s going to need help.

There is no reason your teen can’t invest some time into learning impeccable form with the best of the compound exercises. Squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, dips, pull ups, chin ups, rows, and lunges should be staples of a teenage weight lifting routine, but only if he learns perfect form.

Check my posts on the 5 best exercises for each muscle group. They are listed in the right sidebar on this blog. You can put together a tight workout by utilizing those exercises for periods of prioritization or for full body routines.

Since he is playing football, he will probably want to learn how to properly perform the Olympic lifts. Power cleans and hang cleans are awesome for aspiring young football players; they will make his body dense and strong but quick! Remember though, that he needs to learn perfect form.

By practicing proper sprint technique his body will be training for lower body speed and power. Chin up, swing those arms, kick the knees up high with each stride.

By following the recommendations above, your teen will grow up to be strong, fast, and powerful, but will not sacrifice his height.

Please encourage him to avoid steroids and other anabolic drugs until he is at least 18 years old, no matter what any of his friends and teammates might do. I generally don’t recommend these substances at all, but using them in the teenage years is a recipe for injury and physiological disaster.

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12 Responses to “How to Turn Your Teenage Athlete Into a Sports Legend”

  1. I am a 14 year old girl, weighing about 130 lbs, and I swim competitively, do martial arts, and play tennis. I mainly want to focus on endurance training. Any suggestions?
    I have no idea what weight I can hold, but I do fight grown men in jiu-jitsu, if that helps at all.
    Plus, does that diet mean I can’t eat all of my sugary fatty stuff?

    • Use HIIT workouts several times a week and be sure to train with weights 3 times a week. You don’t have to go super heavy, but you should definitely use maximum intensity with the weights you do use. For the diet – sugary fatty stuff in moderation only.

  2. Kevin: I definitely think your kid should lose fat first. As soon as he loses about 40-50 lbs of pure body fat, his performance will probably sky rocket. I bet he will be stronger, faster, more powerful, and will look dominating if he gets down to about 230/240. That is, unless he wants to be a lineman in the NFL, in which case you should keep him around 280-300, and focus on strength and speed.

    I suggest you dial in his eating habits as much as possible, get him all the protein and complex carbs he needs to grow. Next he should adjust his training to focus on speed, power, and strength. Seriously: power and speed training will be the key to his development. Forget about bodybuilding. Forget about 10-15 rep sets. This guy should be training with HIIT routines for speed, Olympic lifts for power; he should work on acceleration constantly on all exercises, using explosive rep reversal to build starting strength. He could make great use of bands and chains in his strength training and in his high intensity conditioning. HIIT workouts will be great for him by increasing his conditioning and speed.

    As long as he is into it, I bet you have a kid with great potential on your hands. The only other aspect you should focus on, which might be the most important of all, is recovery. Be sure to be proactive about injuries by training the rotator cuff, and by not putting the spine, hips, or knees into precarious situations. Use a foam roller to help recovery, and be sure to get a massage therapist to work out the scar tissue that builds up from injuries and from regular training. Deep tissue massage such as ART is great.

  3. Well I have an opposite situation with my 14 year old. He is 5’10” and 290lbs. He also wears a size 13 shoe and I am 6’3″ and his mother is 5’9″. He is very athletic, strong as hell and looks more like 240lbs rather than 290lbs. It’s great to have some of these high school coaches doing a lil recruiting but I think he needs to shed a 100lbs and then naturally (thru working out) put on the weight. Am I off base and if I am or not what is the correct path to take. He’s great at all 3 major sports (and grades are just as good) but I think the weight is holding him back big time! Any advice?

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  8. thanks steve , but how do i define light? im 60kg and ive heard that squatting moderately heavy weights wont stunt what is the ideal weight for squats for me? thanks in advance

  9. Hi steve,
    Im 14 years old and i squats 55kg 4 sets,7 reps.After doing these, i kinda back feels weird and my spine too.I fear that my height may be stunted and have given up squats.What do you think?can u offer any advice?

    • anthony: I wouldn’t do too many heavy back squats at your age. Either keep the weight light (12-15 reps) or wait a couple more years to squat heavy. You most likely did not do any damage to your spine just by squatting, unless you squatted too heavy or with bad technique. No amount of proper squatting with perfect form will stunt your growth, and this is why I say AS A TEENAGER, FOCUS ON PERFECTING YOUR FORM RATHER THAN TRYING TO LIFT 1000 LBS. If you honestly think there is an issue with your back, you should go talk to your doctor.

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