Nutrient-rich protein drinks linked to higher mental, physical performance

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ABBOTT PARK, Ill. — The United State Air Force’s motto is aim high. Thanks to a study on nutrition and a new high-protein drink, many may one day be able to aim higher. Researchers from the University of Illinois have revealed a direct link between optimal nutrition and better mental and physical fitness.

Working with the USAF and Abbott Laboratories, the study finds active-duty personnel who added a nutrient-rich protein drink to their daily workout and dieting routine experienced significantly higher performance than their peers taking a placebo. The drink contained a mixture of lutein, omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, vitamin D, and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB).

Researchers examined 148 participants split into two groups for 12 weeks. Both squads engaged in the same exercise program including aerobic and resistance training five days a week. One group however, received the prototype drink while the others did not.

Adding this drink to the daily mix of exercise improved the working memory of the participants by 11 percent. This resulted in gains in their ability to multitask, specially under stress.

The personnel taking the nutritional drink also had reaction times six percent faster than the placebo group and a resting heart rate eight percent lower. Resting heart rates, on average, improved from 71 beats per minute to 65 beats in the group getting added nutrition.

“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,” says lead author and postdoctoral researcher Chris Zwilling in a media release. “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.”

Omega-3 fatty acids in protein drinks help improve cognition

So how can the everyday fitness buff train their body and mind like the military does?

Researchers say after a workout, make sure you’re consuming foods high in protein to help build muscles. This helps your muscles fully reap the rewards of a strenuous workout. High-protein foods include lean meats, dairy, salmon, tuna, fortified milk, and egg yolks.

For your mind, the study says omega-3 fatty acids are the key. Adding fatty fish like salmon and tuna to your diet can help build memory and multitasking abilities. When it comes to building problem-solving skills, a diet rich in lutein will keep you sharp. Egg yolks, dark leafy greens, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables all contain lutein.

“It is clear that nutrition is a critical component for developing and maintaining the physical and cognitive performance of the men and women in the U.S. Air Force,” Adam Strang, Ph.D., the lead investigator with the Air Force Research Laboratory adds. “This research confirms that a nutritional supplement with the right nutrients can support and facilitate those improvements when paired with balanced exercise training. We hope to use this knowledge now and, in the future, to better prepare them for the complex and diverse mission sets they are facing.”

The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

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