Food and nutrition not only fuel our bodies and brains, but it also links fitness and performance. A new study from the University of Illinois and the US Air Force Research Lab announced that optimal nutrition is the key that links physical fitness and cognitive performance.
The result is published in the journal Scientific Reports (Zwilling, Strang, et al. 2020).
The Study: Nutrition Intervention
In the study, researchers examined the effectiveness of optimal nutrition intervention paired with physical exercise to enhance fitness and cognitive performance in a population of active-duty men and women in the US Air Force.
All study participants (n=148) were healthy, ranged from 18 to 45 years of age, and did not have any physical/mental health issues. None of the participants were pregnant, were they having any prescription drugs, nor were they taking any nutritional supplements.
The researchers randomly divided the participants into two groups. While both groups performed the same exercise program, which included a balanced exercise program comprised of aerobic and resistance training performed five days per week (Monday–Friday) for 12 weeks.
One group was given a prototype nutritional drink comprised of β-hydroxy β-methyl butyrate (HMB), lutein, phospholipids, DHA and selected micronutrients including B12 and folic acid, and the other group received a non-isocaloric placebo drink.
The exercise intervention was designed to enhance mission-relevant strength, cardiovascular health, and fitness, and the nutritional supplement intervention was designed to support both muscle and cognitive performance, whereas the placebo drink was designed not to promote physical or cognitive health.
Participants were required to drink one serving of the beverage 30 minutes before the fitness intervention and one serving 1 hour after the fitness intervention.
Several parameters of physical health and fitness, cognitive performances, and bio-marker assessments at pre-and post-intervention periods were examined to evaluate the efficacy of exercise training and nutritional supplement.
The results demonstrated that participants who had optimal nutrition led to statistically significant improved working memory (11%), improved reaction time (6%), increased muscle mass (more than two pounds), and lowered resting heart rate (8%) compared to the placebo group.
“The physical and mental health benefits of exercise are well known, but this study demonstrates how optimal nutrition can help boost brain function as well,” said lead study author, Chris Zwilling, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher working with the study’s principal investigator Aron Barbey, Ph.D. at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois.
“We are excited by the results because they provide critical insights into how simple dietary changes can make a big difference in helping people be as efficient and productive as possible in today’s world.”
‘While the findings are based on a large sample of Air Force Airmen and demonstrate that physical fitness and cognitive enhancement is achievable, the multimodal lifestyle intervention documented in this study could easily be implemented in other real-world contexts to optimize human performance’—concluded the study.