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Protein for Young Players: How Much is Enough?

In the world of sports nutrition, protein is viewed as an essential component of the recovery process, however, there is much more to protein than just that.

Protein is essential for children and adolescent’s growth and development – especially for their bones.

Did you know protein plays a role in the making of:

Muscles – protein is the main constituent of muscles and helps them grow and repair
Bones – protein makes up roughly half of the volume of our bones
Connective tissue – e.g. collagen
Hair and skin
Antibodies – these help fight infection
Enzymes – these carry out all sorts of chemical reactions within our bodies (e.g. turning the food we eat into energy)
Hormones – these are messengers that serve many purposes (e.g. appetite and protein synthesis)
Transport proteins – e.g. haemoglobin protein in the blood transports oxygen around our bodies

Therefore, protein is really important for youth (and adults!), so we must be aware of whether our children are getting enough.

How much do children and adolescents need?

Children and adolescents need a specific amount of protein because they are growing fast. A simple way to know how much is to find out their weight in kg, and to have just under this value in grams of protein per day. For example, if a child weighs 55 kg then they would need just short of 55 g of protein per day.

Where can they get the protein they need?

Food source


Average protein amount(g)

Yoghurt 1 pot


Ham 1 slice


Eggs 1 medium egg


Unsalted mixed nuts Handful


Lentils 80g


Cheddar cheese 1 slice (around 30g)


Milk – whole 200 ml


Milk – semi-skimmed 200 ml


Soya beans 80g (around 3 heaped tbsp)


Fresh Prawns 1-2 handfuls(approx )100g


Tuna ½ can


Chicken Average breast (skinless)


Salmon Fillet Average fi­llet


Ribeye Steak Average ribeye (around 200g)


Turkey for Christmas

And of course, we cannot forget Turkey at this time of year. Two slices (although many probably go beyond this portion with their Christmas dinner) contains around 8 g of protein, and is relatively low in fat including saturated fat (unless you eat the skin!).

It also is a source of many important vitamins and minerals – for example, it contains selenium which is an antioxidant and has a role in regulating our thyroid hormone which subsequently regulated our metabolism. It also contains B vitamins which help regulate our metabolism.

Turkey doesn’t have to be eaten once a year – it is a great meat to incorporate into your diets due to its great nutritional profile. Why not try mixing some turkey breast meat, celery, apple slices, grapes and pecan nuts together with some salad leaves and sprinkle with a homemade dressing (e.g. oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard and honey mix would go nicely)!

Can children benefit from protein shakes?

Yes and no. Protein shakes are a source of high quality protein, and everyone needs protein. Protein should be part of a child’s balanced diet for reasons already discussed and shakes are a novel way for them to get some. It is also a good way for vegetarians to get some protein in their diets.

However, many companies tend to add all sorts of additives aimed at sports men and women, so make sure you read the labels and go for shakes with ingredients that you know.

Care must also be taken to not replace other protein sources with shakes as these have additional nutrients that are crucial for health (e.g. red meat contains iron, fish contains omega 3 fats, etc.). Children should follow a balanced diet in order to benefit from a range of nutrients that different food sources provide.

An example meal plan for one day for a 16-year-old rugby player weighing 60 kg is as follows:

Breakfast Snack Lunch Pre-training snack Evening meal
(1)Slice wholemeal toast with 1 boiled egg
(2)Orange juice diluted with water
Yoghurt and an apple (1) 1 pita bread filled with 2 slices ham, cucumber and salad leaves
(2) Satsuma
Protein powder (around 20g), 200ml milk, ½ banana mixed in a smoothie blender Mixed rice made with wholemeal rice, prawns, onion, pepper, mushrooms and soy sauce

Approx. protein (g):
Breakfast – 9
Snack – 4
Lunch – 14
Pre training snack – 20
Evening meal – 17
Total – 64 grams

This is a good amount of protein – it is slightly more than the standard requirements so additional protein may be used to help recover from exercise.


It is worth noting that vegetarians must ensure that they get a very varied diet because most plant proteins (except soy) are lacking in some of the essential components of protein. These are called essential amino acids. By having a range of different proteins, you will get a range of the different amino acids each one offers and should meet your requirements this way.

The following link is a good source of information for the different types of protein that can be eaten by vegetarians and includes useful nutrition information that these proteins provide:

If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to leave them below. I always look forward to hearing from you.

About Sophie Enever

Sophie Enever is a nutrition expert currently working with the Cambridge Rugby Union Football Club providing nutrition related advice. Please contact her with any questions you may have regarding nutrition and youth rugby and to provide her with topics for her upcoming monthly blogs. View all posts by Sophie Enever

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