Fitness fanatics have long emphasized and touted the pertinence of consuming sufficient amounts of dietary protein for optimal athletic performance and recovery. These intake amounts are still debated in the field of nutrition. Now, researchers are re-evaluating protein requirements not only in health, but also in sickness.

Dr. Carla Prado and her team of researchers at the University of Alberta are investigating the potential benefits of a high-protein diet for muscle mass, as well as for overall body weight retention in late-stage colorectal cancer patients through dietitian-led meal planning and 24-hour patient monitoring.

The Prado study, also known as the “PRIMe” (Protein Recommendation to Increase Muscle) study, focuses on colorectal cancer specifically as it is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in both men and women in Canada. As patients undergo treatment for their late-stage colorectal cancer, side-effects include fatigue and lack of appetite. With a decreased dietary intake related to the aforementioned side-effects, patients often struggle to meet their protein needs, which can make battling the disease even more challenging.

“Our study focuses on protein intake in the cancer population because we know that preserving muscle mass can have a meaningful positive impact on the person with cancer’s health,” said Prado. “We hope that it will improve their physical function, their tolerance to cancer treatment, among others.”

The study aims to investigate how calorically adequate diets with varying protein amounts can affect overall body composition in stages 2–4 colorectal cancer patients.

One group of participants in the study consumes one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, whereas the other consumes two times that amount. The research team then monitors the patient’s caloric output around the clock. The goal is to better understand what effect varying protein intake levels have on body composition in cancer-stricken patients.

What makes this research unique is that no other study has examined 24-hour energy expenditure in diagnosed cancer patients thus far. As ideal protein in-takes for maximum muscle retention in cancer patients are yet to be firmly defined, it is evident that the PRIMe study will shed new light on a disease that many Canadians battle each year. Z

Author: Sina Woerthle, MSc., is a freelance nutrition writer, health blogger and full-time research and development scientist in the vegan food industry. She enjoys the great outdoors, hiking and picnicking in the park.

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