Researchers investigate whether eating a protein breakfast can promote a positive protein balance in healthy active children.
Dietary protein is important for the building blocks of lean tissue growth all throughout life. This is especially important for children. Previous research has suggested that protein intake and its distribution throughout the day can help to improve protein metabolism and net protein balance in adults. However, there is little research regarding this in children. Since children have very different physiology and metabolism than adults, the findings from adult research may not be applicable to children.
In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers from Switzerland, Canada, and the United Kingdom determined how different amounts of protein eaten at breakfast and the distribution dietary protein throughout the day impacts net protein balance in children.
In the study, researchers assigned a total of 28 participants to consume a protein breakfast consisting of a beverage containing 0, 7, 14 or 21 grams of protein, while maintaining the same energy intake over the following nine-hour period in all participants. They calculated the net protein balance from nitrogen-containing metabolites excreted in the urine, which they collected at varying points during the study.
Eating protein at breakfast encouraged a positive net protein balance
The results showed that overnight fasting led to an average negative net protein balance. After assessing the nine-hour period of protein metabolism during the day, they found greater protein synthesis in the intervention group that consumed 21 grams versus 0 grams of a protein breakfast in the morning.
The study also found that dietary protein intake at breakfast resulted in a significant increase in the net balance of protein over the nine-hour period after the overnight period of protein loss. If a regular diet and physical activity were kept constant, then consumption of a 7-gram protein breakfast followed by 18 grams of protein at lunch was adequate to encourage positive net protein balance.
Since the study kept overall dietary energy intake the same for all participants and only varied in the distribution of this intake throughout the day, the differences seen between groups in protein metabolism and net protein balance can be more confidently attributed to the different doses of their protein breakfast.
Healthy active children should eat 7 grams or more of protein at breakfast
Overall, the study concludes that healthy active children should consume 7 or more grams of their total daily protein intake at breakfast to offset the protein losses from overnight fasting.
The researchers advocate for future research long-term studies to determine the best distribution of daily protein intake in children to optimize their positive protein balance.
Written by Maggie Leung, PharmD
Reference: Karagounis, L. G., Volterman, K. A., Breuillé, D., Offord, E. A., Emady-Azar, S., & Moore, D. R. (2018). Protein Intake at Breakfast Promotes a Positive Whole-Body Protein Balance in a Dose-Response Manner in Healthy Children: A Randomized Trial. The Journal of Nutrition, 148(5), 729-737. doi:10.1093/jn/nxy026