Optimal Nutrition

One study examining protein intake at four times during the day showed young people in America aged 4-18 years tend to consume higher levels protein-rich foods later in the day. However, more research is needed to correlate optimal nutrition with a healthy metabolism, its authors state.


You are what you eat; and ideally, one ingests food with the goal of generating the continual physical energy that is the conduit toward wellbeing. While proper energy intake is important throughout life, it is particularly crucial for children and adolescents whose bodies are still developing. The NHANES 2013-2014 study provided the data on protein consumption and energy levels.

The one-day study stratified the participants in age blocks of 4-8 years, 9-13 years, and 14-18 years. The youngest participants, 5 years or younger, had another person compiling their answers, those 6-11 years had assistance completing their responses and the participants 12-18 years old answered food-consumption questions themselves.

The researchers aimed to establish protein consumption and energy levels while looking at time periods during that day to learn whether excessive protein eating at any given hour translated into extra energy, i.e. optimal nutrition.

Nearly 80% of the 3088 participants who completed that day-long assessment indicated that they ate foods with protein at mid-day and even more so in the evening. Correspondingly, their metabolic energy levels were higher during those periods, but particularly so in the evening, when the day’s physical activity may have been waning.

The researchers established mid-day and evening hours, respectively, as those between 10:00-14:00 hours and 17:00-23:59 hours. The questions also included main-meal intakes during that single 24-hour period, regardless of the time at which a main meal was consumed.

The scientists calibrated protein intake from each eating occasion in grams and respective eating-occasion energy levels in grams per kilogram of participants’ adjusted body weights. The researchers also referred to prior studies showing 90 grams of protein per day, divided into three equal servings, has been shown to yield greater sustained energy levels than large amounts consumed later in the day.

Researchers observed that participants across all the age levels consumed more than 200% of the recommended daily protein intake. They posited that high protein consumption may disrupt a developing young person’s metabolism, especially when large amounts of protein are consumed late in the day.

The scientists are associated with the Nestle Research Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the University of St. Mark and St. John, in Plymouth, United Kingdom. The American Society for Nutrition published the findings in its Journal of Nutrition in May 2017.

This work furthers knowledge of the link between protein consumption levels and optimal nutrition in a young population. The authors note that additional research is needed to establish more concrete results which may clarify whether excessive protein consumption during youth could cause metabolic disorders later in life.

As a limitation, the scientists conceded that examining data from a single 24-hour period may not be reflective of participants’ overall eating-occasion-habits and thus could not be a definitive factor in determining optimal nutrition.


Written By: Susan Mercer Hinrichs, MA, MBA, CPhT

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