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Adult nutrition

Please note OSCEstop content is for educational purposes only and not intended to inform clinical practice. OSCEstop and authors take no responsibility for errors or the use of any information displayed. 

Background knowledge

Normal requirements for hospital patients

Dependent on patient weight:      

  • Energy: 25-35kcal/kg/day
  • Protein: 0.8-1g/kg/day
  • Fluid: 30-35ml/kg/day

e.g. for an average 70kg patient over 24 hours: energy 1750-2450kcal, protein 56-70g, fluid 2.1-2.45L 

Assessing nutritional status

  • Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST) score: 0 = low risk; 1 = medium risk (observe); 2 or more = high risk (treat). Scoring takes into account BMI, unplanned weight loss, and whether patient is acutely ill and has had/will have no nutritional intake for >5 days (Elia et al. 2003)
  • BMI
  • History
  • Nutritional status exam
  • Bloods: haemoglobin, electrolytes (including Mg2+, PO43-, Ca2+), LFTs (including albumin), haematinics (B12, folate, ferritin)


  • Meals should ideally contain 650-850kcal 
  • A food guide should be used to calculate energy and protein intake

Oral supplements

Nutritional drinks

Quantity required is determined by calculating the difference between the patient’s daily calorie requirement and their intake. 

 Energy (kcal)Carbohydrate (g)Protein (g)Fat (g)
Fortisip Extra (200ml milkshake)320 362011
Fortisip Compact (125ml milkshake) β€“ similar contents in smaller volume300371212
Fortisip Multi Fibre (200ml milkshake) β€“ with  5g fibre to help bowel function300371212
Fortijuice (200ml juice) β€“ avoid in diabetes (contains sugar)3006780
NestlΓ© Resource Energy (200ml milkshake)300 421110
NestlΓ© Build Up soup (49g sachet)200 2776.9
Nutricia PreOp (200ml clear drink) β€“ 2 taken 2 hours pre-op for major elective operations1002500

Additional micronutrients to consider

  • Vitamin supplements
    • Sanatogen multivitamin tablets
    • Oral Vitamin B Compound Strong + thiamine 
    • Pabrinex (IV equivalent of oral Vitamin B Compound Strong + thiamine) – consider using IV for first 3 days before changing to oral if patient has anorexia nervosa, chronic alcoholism or very high refeeding risk
  • Electrolyte supplements (replace if low)
    • Potassium 
    • Phosphate
    • Magnesium 

Enteric feeds

Enteric feeds may be required when oral intake is likely to be absent for >5-7 days and gut is functioning. 

Administration methods

  • Fine-bore nasogastric (NG) tube – for short-term use
  • Nasojejunal (NJ) tube – if problems with gastric reflux or delayed gastric emptying
  • Percutaneous gastrostomy/jejunostomy tube – for longer-term feeding, i.e. >4-6 weeks, or if there is a mechanical swallowing obstruction


Percutaneous gastrostomy/jejunostomy tube may be inserted:

  • Endoscopically: percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy/ jejunostomy (PEG/J) – most
  • Radiologically: radiologically inserted gastrostomy (RIG) – if patient cannot swallow
  • Surgically – if having other surgery, tube may be placed at the same time

Matching requirements

  • Most feeds contain 1kcal/ml and are nutritionally complete (hence, 25-35ml/kg/day will usually match standard requirements)
    • In patients at risk of refeeding syndrome, start much slower – see below
    • In seriously ill/injured people, start at 50% of estimated requirements and build up over 24-48 hours
  • Reduce feed if they are also eating (deduct their oral intake of calories)
  • Exact feed choice is influenced by nutritional requirements, absorption/motility abnormalities, diarrhoeal loss, and presence of liver/renal impairment

Types of feed

  • Polymeric feeds (polypeptides), e.g. Nutrison, Nutrison Multifibre – most commonly used
  • Pre-digested feeds (small peptides) – better absorbed, for maldigestive patients, patients with short gut or pancreatic insufficiency
  • Disease-specific and pharmaco-nutrient feeds – for patients with liver/renal impairment

Administration options

  • Boluses (e.g. 200-400ml over 15-60 minutes at regular intervals) – more physiological but can causeΒ dumping syndrome
  • Intermittent infusion (breaks of 6 or more hours depending on requirements) – most commonly used
  • Continuous infusion – used for very ill patients

Giving drugs via enteric tubes

  • Use solutions where possible
  • Some tablets can be crushed and some capsules can be opened (check with pharmacist)
  • Tablets which cannot be crushed: modified release tablets, enteric coated tablets

Parenteral nutrition

Parenteral nutrition may be required in intestinal failure (acute or chronic) and is given via central venous line.

  • Parenteral nutrition (PN) – if also feeding patient by other methods
  • Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) – only IV feeding

Reference: NICE β€˜CG32 Nutrition support for adults: oral nutrition support, enteral tube feeding and parenteral nutrition’ 2017

Test your knowledge on refeeding syndrome

What is refeeding syndrome?

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What are the risk factors?

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How would you manage a malnourished patient at risk of refeeding syndrome?

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How would you manage a patient with established refeeding syndrome?

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