Food for Thought
Diet Quality Improves Fitness Among the Fittest
Two recent peer-reviewed studies discuss the proven benefits of consuming moderate amounts of protein regularly throughout the day (protein-pacing) combined with a multidimensional exercise regimen that includes resistance training, sprint interval exercise, stretching and endurance training. Focusing on the quality of both food and exercise rather than the quantity of either seems to be the key.
Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, New York) exercise scientist Paul Arciero, DPE, professor for health and exercise sciences, and colleagues report that their PRISE regimen (which stands for Protein-Pacing, Resistance, Interval, Stretching and Endurance), when followed for 12 weeks or more, boosted fitness, decreased total and abdominal fat, increased lean body mass, and optimized metabolic and heart health in exercise-trained adults.
In separate studies for men and women, Arciero and his team enlisted 30 women and 20 men aged 30—65 who could clearly be described as "physically fit." Before the interventions, subjects reported that they had exercised a minimum of 4 days per week for at least 45 minutes per session, engaging in both resistance training and aerobic training for at least the past 3 years. Combined, these men and women had an average BMI of 25 and an average body fat percentage of 26.
Within each study, subjects were randomly divided into two groups, and for 12 weeks all participants consumed the same number of calories and performed the identical exercise routine that previous Arciero research had shown was beneficial to health (PRISE). However, diet quality differed between groups. One group consumed commonly recommended protein and fitness/sport nutrition products, and the second group consumed a slightly increased protein intake and antioxidant-rich supplements.
The researchers found that although both groups improved on nearly every measure, those who followed the protein-pacing, antioxidant-rich diet showed the greatest improvements in fitness, including gains in upper-body muscular endurance and power, core strength and blood vessel health (reduced artery stiffness) among female participants; and gains in upper- and lower-body muscular strength and power, aerobic power and lower-back flexibility among male participants.
These findings support three earlier studies by Arciero's team which showed that the PRISE protocol of protein-pacing—with either whole-food sources or whey protein supplementation—was effective at improving physical fitness; decreasing total, abdominal and visceral fat; increasing the proportion of lean muscle mass; and significantly reducing blood glucose, insulin and cholesterol levels.
Arciero would like to see a rethinking of current assumptions about diet and exercise, which he believes place too much focus on the quantity of calories eaten and amount of exercise people do, rather than the quality of the food eaten and the exercise.
"Whether your goal is to improve fitness or heart health, the quality of your diet and a multi-dimensional exercise training regimen (PRISE) can make all the difference," says Arciero. "It's not about simply eating less calories and doing more exercise. It's about eating the right foods at the right time and incorporating a combination of exercises that most effectively promotes health and fitness."