Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, LD, FACSM

Second Advisor

Anita M. Nucci, PhD, RD, LD

Third Advisor

Walter R. Thompson, PhD, FACSM, FAACVPR


Background: Daily nutrient/energy intakes are typically evaluated as a total 24-hour intake rather than as the amounts consumed per eating opportunity. Evidence suggests that smaller, frequent meals containing persistent levels of energy and protein may be more beneficial for achieving a lower body fat and higher fat-free mass than equal intakes consumed in larger and less frequent amounts. This may be due to a better-maintained energy balance (EB) that is achieved with smaller and more frequent intakes.

Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between hourly EB and protein intake with body composition.

Methods: Using a software program that provides hourly and 24-hour energy and nutrient intakes and hourly energy expenditures, a secondary analysis of previously collected 3-day food diaries was used to examine the relationship between hourly EB and body composition. The food and activity diaries provided information on time of food/beverage consumption and hourly energy expenditure, enabling an hourly analysis of EB. Body composition, including fat mass, fat-free mass, and bone density were examined via dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. SPSS was used for statistical analysis, and included descriptive statistics, correlational analyses, t-tests, and regression analyses.

Results: Existing data from elite female gymnasts (N=40) were assessed using an IRB-approved protocol. Higher protein consumption was significantly associated with lower bone mineral density (BMD) in the gymnasts at the arms (r= -0.535; p< 0.001), legs (r= 0.0523; p= 0.001), trunk(r= -0.517; p=0.001), spine (r= -0.472; p=0.002), and pelvis (r= -0.539; p< 0.001). Other dietary factors assessing energy and protein intakes were not significantly associated with body composition. The assessed gymnasts spent the majority of the day in hourly energy balance deficits exceeding -400 kcal. A t-test comparing subjects with higher (n=22) vs. lower (n=18) fat-free mass (FFM), using the statistical mean as the cut point, found that higher protein intakes were significantly associated with lower FFM (p=.007). Subjects with more hours spent in an EB surplus had significantly higher FFM/kg (p=.008) and lower body fat % (p=.008).

Conclusion: These findings suggest that higher protein intakes may compromise BMD, a finding likely exacerbated by the long periods of time spent in EB deficits. More hours in an EB surplus was associated with positive outcomes, including higher FFM/kg and lower body fat percent. These data suggest that higher protein intakes may be consumed by gymnasts with the greatest EB deficits, perhaps as a way of minimizing (unsuccessfully) weight and fat-mass. As virtually all hours of the assessed groups were in an EB deficit, it is possible that consumed protein was used to satisfy energy needs rather than being used anabolically to support or enlarge the muscle mass. Future studies should consider addressing this issue, perhaps by assessing more heterogeneous groups where at least a proportion of the population sustains a reasonably good EB during the assessment period.