Diet and nitrogen metabolism during spaceflight on the shuttle

T. P. Stein, M. J. Leskiw, M. D. Schluter

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78 Scopus citations


Human spaceflight is associated with a loss of body protein. To investigate this problem, dietary intake, nitrogen balance, the whole body protein, and fibrinogen protein synthesis rates were measured on the crews of two Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS) shuttle missions before, during, and after spaceflight. The first mission, SLS-1, lasted 9.5 days, and the second, SLS- 2, lasted 15 days. The 15N-glycine method was used for the protein synthesis measurements. The following results were obtained. 1) There was a rapid decline in weight for the first 5 days and then the body weight appeared to stabilize. 2) The mean energy intake preflight was 39.0 ± 2.5 kcal · kg-1 · day-1 (n = 10). There was a sharp drop in dietary intake on flight day 1, with recovery by the second day, and then energy intake was constant at 30.4 ± 1.5 kcal · kg-1 · day-1 (n = 12) for the remainder of the flight period (P < 0.05). 3) Nitrogen retention was decreased during flight, with the magnitude of the decrease lessening toward the end of the mission. The daily mean nitrogen balance changed from 58 ± 9 mg · kg-1 · day-1 (n = 9) preflight to 16 ± 3 mg N · kg-1 · day-1; P < 0.05; n = 11) in flight, corresponding to a loss of ~1 kg of lean body mass over 14 days. 4) Whole body protein synthesis was increased early in flight and on recovery, as was fibrinogen synthesis. We conclude that 1) the rapid readjustment and stabilization of energy intake and the improved nitrogen retention with increasing flight duration are consistent with a rapid metabolic accommodation to the novel environment; and that 2) the increased protein turnover indicates that a metabolic stress response is an important factor in this adjustment process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-97
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1996
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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