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How to Support a Teen’s Healthy Growth and Development

Here are my 7 tips to support optimal teen growth and development during the adolescent growth spurt.

Teens want to grow. Some taller. Some bigger. Some teens want to know how to spark a growth spurt.

As a childhood nutrition expert, this question comes up often, so I wrote one of my most popular blog posts to help teens and their parents understand what happens during the teenage growth spurt.

But if you want to support your teen in healthful ways, you’ll want to understand what’s going on and how you can best support them.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • what the growth spurt is all about
  • when you can expect it to happen
  • when it will likely stop
  • and how to support it
Girl standing with a skate board in How to grow taller

I will cover the following ways you can best support the teen during their growth spurt:

  1. Ensure teens get enough sleep
  2. Encourage plenty of nutritious food
  3. Eat protein, but not too much
  4. Focus on calcium and vitamin D
  5. Build healthy eating patterns
  6. Snack smartly
  7. Promote physical activity
Final teenage height relies on genetics plus the daily environs such as food and sleep. #growthspurt Click To Tweet

What Can a Growth Chart Tell You?

A teenager’s growth chart gives you insight on how he or she is tracking on the overall height curve. You can make a generalized prediction of natural height based on it.

For example, if a teen is growing along the 90 percentile for height, and that’s been his course throughout childhood, you can extrapolate that he will end up at the 90 percentile at 18 years, which translates to about 6’2” or 6’3”. The growth chart can predict growth potential, but note, it doesn’t always pan out this way.

The reality is that kids don’t always follow their growth channel, particularly when they hit the teenage years and puberty.

[Listen to the podcast: Children’s Growth 101]

My oldest daughter is an example of this. She always tracked on the growth chart to be 5’2” based on her growth channel along the 10 percentile for height. She’s a young adult now, and ended up growing to a height of 5’5”. She had height gain beyond that which was predicted.

So things may change.

You can use the Height Predictor for Boys and Girls to get an estimate, but please realize it’s just an estimate. Compare the results with your growth chart from the pediatrician.

Predicting height is not set in stone. Lifestyle, nutrition, and other factors still have a strong influence on your teen’s final height.

Teens get taller at different ages during adolescence.

7 Helpful Ways to Support the Teen Who is Growing 

I’m often asked about how to get a growth spurt going strong. It’s a lot more than eating a healthy, balanced diet. Here are 7 important ways to help your teen grow to his or her full adult height.

Get Enough Deep Sleep

All teens need at least 8 ½ to 9 hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. During deep sleep, human growth hormone circulates at its peak, helping your teen’s body grow.

In fact, studies have shown that if sleep is delayed, the release of growth hormone is also delayed, potentially reducing the overall exposure of the body to growth hormone.

However, during puberty, the teen’s circadian rhythm changes and leads to a shift in his or her sleep-wake cycle. This makes it challenging for teens to get proper sleep. They go to bed late, and can’t get up early.

Unfortunately, with the rest of the world operating on an early sleep-wake cycle, teens can get behind and miss out on sleep, which may affect their growth.

Eat a Nutritious Diet

Obviously, I am going to sing the praises of proper nutrition! Teens are notorious for getting off course with nutrition, eating more fast food, processed food, and sweets.

This is in part related to their developmental stage and budding independence. However, good—no, great– nutrition is essential to optimal growth.

Remember, during the growth spurt of puberty, calorie and nutrient requirements are at one of their highest points during the entire life span. You want to make sure the food going into your teen’s body is mostly healthy stuff.

There aren’t any magical foods that help you grow, however, there’s always this question:

Does Milk Make You Taller?

Milk is a powerhouse of nutrients, including those important for growth like protein, and the bone-growing nutrients of calcium and vitamin D. Keeping milk in your daily routine is a good (and easy) way to ensure you’re getting these important nutrients.

Be Careful about Eating Too Many Sweets, Treats, and Junk Food

Watch out for too many nutrient-poor foods like sweets and treats and other foods that contain few nutrients. They can carry a lot of calories but add few nutrients like iron and calcium.

One way to do this is to use my simple rule called the 90:10 Rule. It separates food into categories, keeping the “growing” foods (nutrient-rich food groups as outlined by the USDA) at a level of 90% of overall consumption, while curtailing the less-than-healthy items such as sweets and treats to a mere 10% of total intake.

This is not a hard and fast rule about food, but a way for parents and teens to visualize the food balance that will best support overall health and growth.

how to grow as a teen: 7 tips to support the teenage growth spurt

Get Enough Protein…But Not Too Much

Of all the major nutrients, protein is the most important one for growth. This is not to say your teen needs to pig out on protein—but you do want to serve up real sources of protein in your teen’s diet (not the supplement stuff) such as eggs, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and more.

Most teens in their growth spurt need at least a ½ gram of protein per pound of body weight. More than 1 gram per pound of body weight doesn’t seem to make a difference in growth and may be associated with dehydration.

[Read: 8 High Protein Breakfasts for Teens]

Focus on Calcium and vitamin D

The growth of the bones, particularly the long bones in the legs and arms, show up in your child’s height. Calcium and vitamin D are the bone-forming nutrients that encourage bone density. 

Unfortunately, many teens do not get enough calcium or vitamin D in their diet, particularly during puberty! You can help this by paying attention to sources of calcium and vitamin D in the diet.

From milk products to leafy green veggies, there are a lot of options from which to choose. Dairy products that contain both calcium and vitamin D work together to encourage bone growth and solidify them so they are healthy and strong.

My calcium e-book can help you pick the right food sources and target enough throughout the growth spurt.

calcium for growing kids guidebook

Build Healthy Eating Patterns

Teens may have eating patterns that can get in the way of good nutrition. Skipping meals, for one, is pretty common, and this can lead to too much hunger and overeating.

All teens should try to eat three meals per day without skipping—even a light meal, such as a smoothie or a banana is better than skipping altogether. Ideally, spread out your teen’s food intake evenly throughout the day, timing meals in a rhythmic way, every 3 to 5 hours.

Short Stature: What Stunts Growth?

Under-eating both calories and nutrients can rob your body of what it needs to grow optimally. Also, not getting enough protein in your diet is tied to poor linear (height) growth. This is something to pay attention to if you’re a vegetarian, have an eating disorder, or are very picky.

Curb Snacking

Because teens may eat erratically, they often make up for skipped meals or delayed eating with snacking. This can lead to undesirable food choices, and even overeating.

I ask all my teen clients to be thoughtful and strategic with snack choices.

To give you an idea of what I classify as “healthy snacks,” check out my list of 85…that’s a list of snacks that will last you over 12 weeks! If your teen is underweight or a slow weight gainer, start offering a healthy bedtime snack. It can provide a few extra calories that won’t be burned off by the day’s activities.

85 Healthy Snack Ideas for Teens

Grab my healthy snack ideas for teens FREE printable!

Promote Regular Exercise

I’ve heard some pretty crazy statements, like “basketball makes you grow taller because jumping helps stretch the body…”

Personally, I haven’t seen any evidence or research of this, but I have heard the {tall} tales. I do think activity helps, in general, because it keeps the body’s engine (metabolism) humming along, and supports a good appetite…which can spur better eating.

FAQ About Growing Taller

Here are some of the questions I get about teen’s and the growth spurt:

Does Testosterone Make You Taller?

During puberty, yes, testosterone helps with growing taller. However, once you’ve reached your full height, additional testosterone likely won’t change how tall you are or spur additional growth.

Does Losing Weight Make You Taller?

Losing weight itself doesn’t actually make you taller, but it can give the appearance that you’ve grown because you may look leaner.

Which Foods Make You Taller?

In theory, all foods can make you taller, mostly due to the energy they provide. But protein, especially, has been linked to improved linear growth, according to a 2022 study in Nutrients that looked at nutrition and its effects on height growth. This is because the amino acids found in protein foods promote proper growth, especially height.

We know that when children don’t get enough calories, macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, protein), or micronutrients, they don’t grow well. Although we don’t see this commonly in the U.S., studies in under-developed countries highlight the importance of nutrition on growth.

Protein and amino acids are the main nutrients involved in height growth. They promote tissue growth and increase the levels of hormones that prompt the growth spurt.

Zinc has been hypothesized as a stimulator of growth. When it’s deficient, growth may be impaired. However, studies looking at zinc supplementation in children with growth failure have been inconclusive.

Vitamin D supplementation has not been shown to affect linear growth, however, when paired with calcium supplementation, it has prompted height growth in adolescent boys.

Vitamin A has also been the topic of research. It shows a positive influence on linear growth in children over age two.

Last, a multi-micronutrient supplement approach, like a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, rather than a single nutrient, seems to have better results for children and teens when it comes to growing taller.

When Do the Growth Plates Close?

Toward the end of puberty, the growth plates close. For girls, this is around age 13 to 15 and for boys, it’s around age 15 to 17. At this point, bones have hardened completely and final growth has been achieved. 

Does Exercise Make You Taller?

There are rumors circulating that if you participate in exercise you can shape the outcomes of your growth. Unfortunately, there’s no best exercise for height increases.

In fact, there is no scientific evidence that basketball, yoga asanas and mountain pose, or hanging from a bar or an inversion table will affect your average height.

Perhaps exercising your core muscles will improve bad posture and help you stand up taller, but making sure you’re living a healthy lifestyle, eating a healthy diet, and sleeping well are the best bets for supporting maximum height.

Need More Help Feeding Your Teen?

Tune into my podcast, The Nourished Child, where you can find free information about teen nutrition and feeding them.

Read 10 Foods Young Athletes Should Eat and 8 High Protein Breakfasts for the Teenager.

Be sure to visit our store for additional resources, and check out our podcast episodes!

WHY AM I NOT GROWING? | 4 BARRIERS to GOOD GROWTH in Teenagers (That are EASY to FIX!)
Are you building the healthy habits your child needs to thrive? Take my quiz and find out!

This article was updated on April 26, 2023.

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