Determining sample size adequacy for animal model studies in nutrition research: limits and ethical challenges of ordinary power calculation procedures

Animal models are widely used in the field of nutrition research. Scientifically and ethically sound experiments need an adequate number of experimental units. The use of 5-10 units is common, but such sample sizes can be justified for large effect sizes only. We reviewed animal model studies recently published in selected journals in the field of nutrition sciences. We performed a simulation study aimed at determining the adequate sample size for normality assessment. We then performed power calculations for a number of statistical tests commonly found in rodent model studies in nutrition research. Among the selected papers, sample sizes ranged from 6-18 units per group. None of them justified the sample size. However, such sample sizes do not allow for normality testing, thus, graphical approaches should be used. Parametric approaches result in higher statistical power when compared to their non-parametric counterparts. Repeated measures analysis should always be preferred, when possible.