Teen boys and the gym – a guide to what’s healthy

Our latest guest expert blog is from Rich Tabor, who’s a personal trainer working in Hertfordshire. We’re hearing and seeing a lot of discussion about teen boys and their focus on, and concerns about, body image. We know that parents worry about an obsession with working out and about what’s sensible in terms of shakes and supplements. So we asked Rich to talk us through some of the issues around teen boys and the gym, and he’s put together a brilliant summary.

Teen boys and the gym – this is what you need to know

Before we talk specifically about protein shakes and creatine, let’s start by briefly covering the basics of nutrition. This will form the foundation to a healthy diet, giving us plenty of energy, a robust immune system and strong healthy organs.

The basics of nutrition

As human beings we need carbohydrates, fats, protein, fibre, water, vitamins and minerals present in the diet in order to live optimally. When we exclude particular nutrients, we become deficient, which reduces our standard of health and increases risk of illness or disease. Therefore, we should place emphasis on being totally inclusive of all nutrients within our diet.

Rather than thinking “What should I eat less of?” or “What should I not be eating?”, I’d like you to begin thinking and saying, “What else can I include in my diet?”. By increasing the amount of the nutritious foods you consume, you’ll naturally have less space and appetite for foods which lack nutrients.


Macronutrients are the main food nutrients. There are four – carbohydrates, fats, proteins and alcohol. Alcohol is the only macronutrient which can be excluded from the diet without causing any consequences, since alcohol brings very little health benefit. We therefore won’t spend any time on it.


Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source – energy to fuel the brain, movements from muscles and just about any function within the body. If carbohydrates were removed or depleted, you’d see a drop in someone’s energy levels. They’d be tired, sluggish and their cognition would likely be impaired.

The quality of carbohydrates should be considered. Different sources of carbohydrates will contain a variety of nutrients, some may be nutrient dense, some may be nutrient sparse. It’s always good practice to be eating predominantly nutrient dense foods. Good quality carbohydrates are: rice, potato, whole grain bread, couscous, cereal grains, lentils, vegetables, fruits and berries. Low quality carbohydrates are: pastries, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, crisps, sweets, milkshakes.

Low quality carbohydrates and processed foods shouldn’t be demonised. Let’s face it, they taste delicious and they’re a convenient snack. Demonising any food isn’t good practice. Excluding them is probably over-the-top, there’s no need to add that sort of pressure to yourself. Try to keep these foods to a minimum or at least reduce the frequency that they’re consumed.


Dietary fats are another source of energy for the body but secondary to carbohydrates. If carbohydrates are depleted then the body would begin to use fats as fuel. Dietary fat has many other functions such as: provides storage of vitamins, helps to produce sex hormones, improves immune system and improves how cells transport messages throughout the body.

Dietary fats are broken into two subcategories, saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Both of these are required for optimal health. However, saturated fat is on average overconsumed by most people in the UK. We should be aiming to increase the amount of unsaturated fats in our diets, as these have strong health benefits such as improved cardiac health, improved mental health. Unsaturated fat has also been shown to reduce depression, specifically omega 3 fish oils.

Saturated fat sources are coconut oil, butter, fat within animal produce, cheese and dairy.

Unsaturated fat sources are olive oils, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, oily fish – salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna – and avocados. These are what we should increase in our diet.


Protein has a few major roles within the body. It provides the essential structure to build and repair tissue, such as repairing a pulled muscle or repairing a cut on your arm. It also helps support muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is stored protein.The larger the muscle, the larger someone’s bank of protein. Therefore, when someone doesn’t eat enough protein you’ll see that they begin losing muscle tissue and strength, which is a concern.

Protein helps support a healthy immune system and optimal health. It is also the most satiating nutrient (which means it keeps you feeling full) out of any of the macronutrients.This will come in helpful if someone is trying to reduce their body weight and body fat.

Protein can be found in animal meats, poultry, beef, pork, fish and animal produce such as eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese. It can be found in plants too such as lentils, legumes and vegetables. Protein found in animal produce is a higher quality compared to plant sources, as plant protein lacks certain nutrients.

Other contributors to optimal health

These three components create the majority of what our diets should consist of. Next, we have the smaller stuff that contributes to optimal health – fibre, hydration, vitamins & minerals. This can be summarised in a few points:

  • Hydration – drink water until your urine is clear or almost clear.
  • Fibre – I suggest opting for whole grain over refined grains wherever possible. Increase your intake of lentils, beans and vegetables too.
  • Vitamins & minerals – try to switch out your usual food choices for a different yet similar alternative. For example, switch white potato for sweet potato or switch chicken with turkey. Add nuts, seeds or berries to yogurt & granola. Another easy tip is to eat dark leafy greens, kale & spinach, which are very nutrient dense.

To summarise, a healthy diet should be inclusive of all carbohydrates, fats and protein. Try not to exclude anything.

Most people should focus on improving these areas:

  • consume more protein
  • consume more unsaturated fat
  • reduce (not eliminate) processed foods
  • drink enough water for your urine to be clear or almost clear
  • make an effort to constantly create a variety of foods

Personal trainer Rich looking happy in the gym. Rich is giving us advice on teen boys and the gym.

Creatine & whey protein shakes for gym teenagers

I started getting into the gym from 16 years old and I remember very clearly when I came back from having my first ever personal training session. It was more of an induction, with some added guidance on basic nutrition.  I came home and told my mother about what I had learned and that I also needed to buy protein shakes. The memory of my mother’s reaction is still clear now… she freaked out! As someone who had their own issues with food, she was deeply concerned I was about to follow in her footsteps. She could see me having a lifetime of counting calories and being controlled by food; obviously not what a parent wants their child to experience.

To save you the commotion and conflict, let me explain exactly what’s going on in the whole scenario.

Training, protein intake and supplements

Your teenager is exercising in the gym in order to improve themselves. They may be trying to increase the size or shape of their muscles, improve their performance for a sport, improve their mental health or perhaps for another reason. Whatever the motivation is, they’ll be putting their body under a controlled amount of stress. This creates a stimulus, which is needed in order to signal the body to improve. No stimulus = no adaption.

Their body will require an increased amount of protein compared to someone who doesn’t exercise. The protein is going to be repairing their muscle tissues and aiding recovery rates. If they consume enough, they may even grow their muscles – not a bad thing! I would definitely advise anyone who exercises to increase their protein intake for this reason. It’s simply giving the body what it needs to cope with the extra demands.

Protein shakes

Protein can come in different forms, through a variety of food as mentioned above and also in the form of protein shakes. A protein shake is a cheap, convenient and practical solution to increasing protein intakes.

There are thousands of different protein shakes out there to choose from so it can be very difficult to pick one. Often protein shakes have images of hugely muscular intimidating men on the front. This is just a marketing technique. Protein shakes aren’t magic, they also aren’t anabolic steroids, although they do sometimes contain extra ingredients which for the most part are unnecessary. Choose a whey protein – I suggest the company MyProtein for simple, good value and good quality protein powders.

When to include protein shakes

Now is a good time to tell you that it takes years and years of specific training and specific nutrition to grow muscles to a large size. You’ll be glad to hear that your teenager isn’t going to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger anytime soon.

I advise you to encourage your teenager to first set their focus on everything I mentioned in the first section – inclusion of carbohydrates, fats and extra protein, getting a variety of nutrients in their diet and reducing processed foods.

They should also be getting adequate sleep. Approximately 8 hours per night – if they neglect their sleep, their performance will be ground to a halt.

All of this will be enough to support their exercise and active lifestyle.


I wouldn’t really class a whey protein shake as a supplement since it’s arguably still a food. It’s what’s left over when milk has been curdled and strained.

Creatine is a supplement, one of the most studied sports supplements ever. It naturally occurs in meats, however, in very small amounts. Creatine helps sports performance by increasing fuel availability on a cellular level. As a result it helps to improve the amount of power someone can produce. An increase in power will result in an increase in performance. Creatine also helps muscular endurance and increase rates of recovery.

Interestingly, it’s now being shown to improve cognition and memory and has been tested with positive results in the elderly. There are no concerns or consequences to taking creatine. A common concern is that it causes damage the kidneys. This is false; it would only be true if someone already had kidney issues.

Creatine is therefore a safe, well used, well understood supplement which can provide additional benefits to training. If your teenager decides to use creatine I advice you follow the advice on the back of the creatine supplement. It is not necessary, only useful.

To sum up

In conclusion, your teenager is creating a stimulus in order to get a specific reaction. Because of this their needs for specific nutrition and rest must increase to match the demands. Increasing protein so that they can recovery optimally is absolutely necessary. Aim to have a protein source at each meal (meat, fish, eggs, diary products). Next, 8 hours sleep is vital – I can’t stress that enough. Reducing processed foods will help to create a generally healthy diet, leaving more room for nutritious foods.

Protein supplements are a really great way of increasing protein intake in a cheap and convenient manner. I would advise a whey protein.

Supplements such as creatine should only be considered when the basics have been mastered and even then will only provide a small amount of help. See it as the cherry on top of the cake.


Thank you so much, Rich, for this great guide to what’s healthy and sensible for teen boys and the gym. Come back soon and talk to us about body image for teen boys, please!

Louise & Anna x 


A little bit about Equipp

We’re Louise & Anna, mum to 5 teens and young adults. We set up Equipp to help spread happiness and positivity amongst today’s amazing young people. We believe it’s vital that every teenager is given confidence to believe in themselves.  Telling them how wonderful they are and putting a daily smile on their faces via the cards and gifts they receive from Equipp is integral to everything we design and produce. Have a browse around our collections of birthday and teenage milestone gifts and please do get in touch if you have any questions or would like any recommendation.

We love to celebrate teenagers in every way, and are building a community of parents who feel the same. We hope you enjoy reading our blog posts and we’d love it if you came and joined us on Instagram or Facebook to chat about parenting teens.

Oh, and we’re raising money for a fantastic teenage suicide prevention charity, Hector’s House, with a donation from every purchase from Equipp.

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