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Research Update: Do Supplements Help Performance?

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Supplements are ever present in the fitness industry. We’ve covered some of them in other articles, but the question is always out there – do they help with performance?

In October, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released the results of a 12-week exercise regimen study conducted on 148 active duty Air Force airmen. The exercise regimen combined strength training and high-intensity interval aerobic fitness challenges. Additionally, half of the participants received a twice-daily nutrient beverage that included protein; the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA; lutein; phospholipids; vitamin D; B vitamins, and other micronutrients; along with a muscle-promoting compound known as HMB. The other half a placebo. Neither the participants nor researchers knew who received the supplement or the placebo.

In short, half of the group were given supplements during the study.

The Findings…

For both groups, the exercise regimen alone alone “improved strength and endurance, mobility and stability, and participants also saw increases in several measures of cognitive function. They had better episodic memory and processed information more efficiently at the end of the 12 weeks.” The participants’ body fat percentage was reduced and they showed an increase in the oxygen-uptake efficiency (VO2 max). They also showed signs of increases in the accuracy of their responses to problems designed to measure fluid intelligence.

In short (again), exercise is good for you – the whole group saw benefits, both physically and mentally, from performing a regular fitness routine.

Researchers found that those who also consumed the nutritional supplement “saw all of these improvements and more.”

Those that took the supplement drink displayed an improved resting heart rate and greater improvements in their ability to retain and process information. Additionally, their reaction time on fluid intelligence tests was better than the placebo group.

Some Questions…

While the study saw improvements in the supplement shake group, it did not fully ascertain why this occurred.

  • How did the shake affect the macronutrient, micronutrient, and vitamin profile of the test subjects?
  • How did the shake affect daily caloric intake?
  • How was the shake timed with optimal intake windows for the participants?

Matt Kuchan, a co-author of the study, stated “it is possible the active supplement closed nutrient gaps,” since the average American diet that the airmen were on is well-documented to have nutrient gaps. He believes, though, the positive effects “resulted from the combination of muscle and brain nutrients,” and that the nutrients in the shake, which are found in healthy foods, would be difficult to replicate in a natural diet.

Bottom Line…

The study showed that those on the supplements obtained more results in physical and mental performance. While there are questions as to the “why” – the result is that the supplements helped close some gap for the participants’ that supported achieving higher performance levels.

As the term itself states, supplements are to supplement – not replace – dietary needs. But with many individuals, even athletes, trying to balance access to quality nutrients and daily responsibilities, supplements offer a mechanism to help people achieve their fitness performance goals.

– Train Hard!

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