Puberty is a time of growth, change and often less than pleasant symptoms! But when it comes specifically to puberty in boys, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The hormonal changes that occur during a boy’s puberty are completely normal. However, if your son is struggling with problems such as an insatiable appetite, skin issues and mood swings, there are ways that you can help.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn about puberty in boys, as well as the steps you can take to support them through the process.
What puberty in boys looks like
Unlike female puberty, initial signs for male puberty is more subtle. Puberty in boys generally starts later than girls, usually between 9-14 years old.
Puberty begins with an increase in luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). For boys, this stimulates the production of testosterone – the key male sex hormone.
Testosterone sets off the physical, mental and emotional changes that occur. It is also responsible for the process of sperm production.
The first physical sign for male puberty is the enlargement of the testicles. This can be quite dramatic, as they can almost double in size. Pubic hair will also start to sprout.
The initial signs can be much harder for us parents to spot. But one sign that we will likely notice is the increase in body odour. This is due to the hormonal changes increasing the rate of sweat and the activity of sweat glands.
Boys go through a massive growth spurt during puberty. They grow taller, but also develop more muscle, particularly around the chest and shoulders.
Around this time of growing, they start to grow underarm and facial hair. Their voice will deepen and start to crack not long after the peak of their growth spurt.
There are some symptoms that develop due to the changes in hormones that boys might feel unsure or embarrassed about.
One is an increased frequency of erections. Along with this, they will experience ejaculations, including wet dreams or ‘nocturnal emissions’. These are normal symptoms, but they are rarely talked about. This can lead a boy to hide it because he thinks it is not normal or that he wet the bed.
Another is tenderness around the nipple area. Up to 30% of boys will experience tenderness and even development of the nipple and some breast tissue. This is because some of the testosterone is converted into oestrogen, a female sex hormone.
Although it may be embarrassing, most cases settle within 1-2 years. It’s important that your son knows that it is a normal symptom that will likely resolve itself. You may like his dad, uncle, grandfather or male family friend to chat to him about it.
Girls are famous for their moods during puberty, but mood swings are a part of puberty in boys too! Like girls, this is due to the increase in sex hormone levels.
Boys tend towards feeling frustrated, angry and even aggressive. These are all linked to testosterone levels changing. It is normal to experience these feels, but our boys need to learn how to express them in a healthy way.
Some boys may also feel more emotional, sad or even depressed. This can be tricky socially, as there is still a stigma around boys showing their feelings. It’s important to make home a safe place for them to express their emotions.
Eating you out of house and home
The symptom that everyone associated with male puberty would have to be an increase in appetite. We all know a mother who has struggled because she could not fill her teenage son up, no matter how much food there was!
Teenage boys do have an increased need for calories as they grow and develop at a rapid pace. But when it comes to food, quality is still as important as quantity. Boys also have a greater need for specific nutrients to support healthy growth.
As they age, teenage boys will become more independent, which means they are likely to go out and buy meals or snacks with friends. Unfortunately, teenagers are biologically drawn towards processed foods that are essentially empty calories.
Their brain wired to be attracted to short-term rewards because they have a higher amount of dopamine receptors. To satisfy these receptors, they opt for quick rewards including junk food, screens and social media.
The area of the brain responsible for behaviour and decision-making is not fully developed until their 20s. So even if they know junk food isn’t a good idea, they will struggle to choose healthier options.
If your son eats junk food when he is out with his friends, it’s not a big problem. The key is to focus on what he eats at home and make sure it is as nutrient-dense as possible.
How to support boys through puberty
Balance the macronutrient intake
Boys do need a higher calorie intake to fuel the processes that occur during puberty. But most importantly, they need a good balance of nutrients to support the changes.
We don’t want to fill them up on empty-calorie foods such as white bread, white pasta and junk food. The key for filling boys up is a balanced combination of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.
Protein is the most filling of the macronutrients. To stay full, you want to encourage a good amount of protein at breakfast and lunch – not just dinner. Include protein-rich foods such as:
- Fish and seafood
- A high-quality protein supplement for smoothies
Carbohydrates are a staple for growing teenagers. When it comes to carbs, quality trumps quantity. Eating a big bowl of white rice or pasta or munching through 4 white bread sandwiches will only satiate a teen boy for an hour or two. Instead, you want to go for the fibre-rich carbohydrates, as fibre fills them up for longer. Go for options such as:
- Wholegrain bread
- Rye crackers
- Wholegrain or spelt pasta
- Sweet potatoes
Healthy fats will help to keep your boy full, as well as supporting healthy hormone production. A little goes a long way, so fat doesn’t have to be the start of a meal – but you do want to include an element of fat in every meal. Reach for:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Oily fish
- Nuts and seeds
When it comes to eating at school, you may need to get creative and offer something they will accept and eat in front of their friends. Most teenage boys won’t eat a quinoa salad at school. But you could make a wholegrain sandwich with leftover chicken or roast lamb and some veggies.
Encourage a healthy expression of their feelings
Even though we know that emotional and mental health is critical, society still discourages boys from showing how they feel. This is why it’s important to encourage your son to express his emotions in a healthy way.
The best way to do this is to repeat how he feels if he is feeling moody or angry. For example, you might say, ‘It seems like you’re feeling frustrated with your sister – but you still need to put away the dishes before dinner!’ That way, you are keeping boundaries, but recognising how he feels.
Another way to help them work through their feelings is with physical activity. Get them a punching bag or set up a basketball ring. This can be particularly useful for boys who struggle to talk about their feelings.
Include the critical micronutrients
When it comes to puberty in boys, there are a few specific nutrients that can be helpful to ease the transition. If your son’s intake of these nutrients is on the low side, boosting it up via a supplement may be worthwhile.
When it comes to male health, zinc is the king of minerals. Zinc helps the process of puberty in boys by:
- Supporting the increase in growth and development
- Balancing production of testosterone
- Reducing acne and breakouts while supporting general skin health
- Encouraging healthy brain function and mood via the production of beneficial brain chemicals
Food sources of zinc include red meat, fish, seafood, eggs and pumpkin seeds. If your son doesn’t eat these foods daily, he may benefit from a supplement.
Another key mineral is magnesium. As magnesium is involved in over 300 processes in the body, it’s no surprise that it is helpful throughout puberty. There are a few key processes that magnesium plays, including:
- Calming the nervous system – reducing stress, anxiety and anger
- Supporting healthy muscles – reducing the risk of muscle cramps that are common due to sudden growth
- Promoting the clearance of hormones through the liver – including excess testosterone and even oestrogen
Magnesium can be found in foods such as wholegrains, nuts, seeds and green leafy veggies. However, it is hard to get a therapeutic amount of magnesium through the diet due to our depleted soils.
B6 goes hand in hand with magnesium in many essential processes throughout puberty. Some of its benefits include:
- Assisting in the metabolism of protein – this occurs during periods of muscle growth
- Helping to support brain chemical production – specifically serotonin (happy) and GABA (calming)
- Supporting clearance of any excess oestrogen in the liver
Vitamin B6 is found in similar foods to magnesium, including wholegrain, nuts and seeds.
Although you will find these 3 nutrients in a good quality multi-vitamin, it may not be enough for a therapeutic effect. If you would like a supplement that contains all of these nutrients in a therapeutic dose, you can book an express consult with one of our naturopaths.
Is your son finding the hormonal shifts of puberty a struggle?
We can offer personalised support and advice to help ease his transition into healthy adulthood.
Click here to book an appointment.