Right nutrition not only fuels our bodies and improves fitness, but gives us an edge mentally too as researchers have found that the right nutrition is directly linked to physical fitness and cognitive performance in men and women.
The double-blind study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, examined the effectiveness of optimal nutrition and exercise to enhance fitness and cognitive performance among a population of active-duty men and women in the US Air Force.
"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 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the US.
For the findings, researchers divided the 148 study participants into two groups for 12 weeks.
Both groups performed the same training program, which included a balanced exercise program comprised of aerobic and resistance training performed five days per week.
In addition to the training program, one group was given a prototype nutritional drink, the other group received a placebo.
The study showed that exercise, along with the addition of a high-protein nutrition drink containing lutein, omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, vitamin D, and beta-hydroxy-beta-methyl butyrate (HMB), led to statistically significant changes to the following compared to exercise alone.
The study found that right nutrition improved working memory by 11 per cent (i.e., information processing and problem-solving), which predicts multitasking and is often impaired under stress.
It improved reaction time by six per cent - participants became faster and more accurate and increased muscle mass by more than two pounds.
"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," Zwilling said.
These results confirm that by combining the right nutrition and exercise, people who are facing high-pressure situations can stay sharp physically and mentally when they need it most.
"It is clear that nutrition is a critical component for developing and maintaining the physical and cognitive performance of the men and women," the authors wrote.
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 researchers noted.
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