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Lack of effect of high-protein vs. high-carbohydrate meal intake on stress-related mood and eating behavior

Sofie G Lemmens12*, Eveline A Martens12, Jurriaan M Born12, Mieke J Martens12 and Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga12

Author Affiliations

1 Top Institute Food and Nutrition, Wageningen, The Netherlands

2 Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

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Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:136  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-136

Published: 12 December 2011



Consumption of meals with different macronutrients, especially high in carbohydrates, may influence stress-related eating behavior. We aimed to investigate whether consumption of high-protein vs. high-carbohydrate meals influences stress-related mood, food reward, i.e. 'liking' and 'wanting', and post-meal energy intake.


Participants (n = 38, 19m/19f, age = 25 ± 9 y, BMI = 25.0 ± 3.3 kg/m2) came to the university four times, fasted, once for a stress session receiving a high-protein meal, once for a rest session receiving a high-protein meal, once for a stress session receiving a high-carbohydrate meal and once for a rest session receiving a high-carbohydrate meal (randomized cross-over design). The high-protein and high-carbohydrate test meals (energy percentage protein/carbohydrate/fat 65/5/30 vs. 6/64/30) matched for energy density (4 kJ/g) and daily energy requirements (30%). Stress was induced using an ego-threatening test. Pre- and post-meal 'liking' and 'wanting' (for bread, filling, drinks, dessert, snacks, stationery (non-food alternative as control)) was measured by means of a computer test. Following the post-meal 'wanting' measurement, participants received and consumed their wanted food items (post-meal energy intake). Appetite profile (visual analogue scales), mood state (Profile Of Mood State and State Trait Anxiety Inventory questionnaires), and post-meal energy intake were measured.


Participants showed increased feelings of depression and anxiety during stress (P < 0.01). Consumption of the test meal decreased hunger, increased satiety, decreased 'liking' of bread and filling, and increased 'liking' of placebo and drinks (P < 0.0001). Food 'wanting' decreased pre- to post-meal (P < 0.0001). The high-protein vs. high-carbohydrate test meal induced lower subsequent 'wanting' and energy intake (1.7 ± 0.3 MJ vs. 2.5 ± 0.4 MJ) only in individuals characterized by disinhibited eating behavior (factor 2 Three Factor Eating Questionnaire, n = 16), during rest (P ≤ 0.01). This reduction in 'wanting' and energy intake following the high-protein meal disappeared during stress.


Consumption of a high-protein vs. high-carbohydrate meal appears to have limited impact on stress-related eating behavior. Only participants with high disinhibition showed decreased subsequent 'wanting' and energy intake during rest; this effect disappeared under stress. Acute stress overruled effects of consumption of high-protein foods.

Trial registration

The study was registered in the Dutch Trial Register (NTR1904). The protocol described here in this study deviates from the trial protocol approved by the Medical Ethical Committee of the Maastricht University as it comprises only a part of the approved trial protocol.

Macronutrients; stress; reward; disinhibition