In an attempt to improve early enteral nitrogen replacement, nitrogen status was compared in two groups of head injured patients receiving enteral regimens of 38 to 51 kcal/kg/day with different protein concentrations. Eleven control patients received 1.5 g protein/kg/day and 10 study patients received 2.2 g protein/kg/day. Daily nitrogen excretion, corrected nitrogen balance, blood urea nitrogen changes, and enteral formula tolerance were compared between groups over a 10-day period. Those receiving 2.2 g protein/kg/day had significantly higher daily and cumulative nitrogen balances despite their higher nitrogen excretion levels. Over 10 days, the study group retained 9.2 g nitrogen. By comparison, the control group sustained a cumulative loss of 31.2 g nitrogen over 10 days, despite a mean intake of 109 g protein/day. In both groups, full strength, full rate feedings were not possible until day 10 postinjury. These data indicate that once enteral formulas are tolerated high nitrogen regimens are required to achieve positive nitrogen balance in acute severe head injury patients.