Data from a randomized, counterbalanced crossover study, published in Nutrition, indicated that high protein supplementation (equivalent to 36% of all calories) further enhanced increases in cerebral oxygen saturation observed during a cycling test.
High protein was also found to attenuate increases in cerebral blood perfusion which led to a 16% longer cycling time, report scientists from the University of Taipei (Taiwan) and the Competitor Institute of Sports Nutrition in Beijing.
“The key finding of the present study is that increasing protein content in a carbohydrate-based supplementation after an exercise recovery significantly increased cerebral oxygenation with less blood demand in the frontal brain during the next high-intensity exercise challenge,” they wrote. “This brain hemodynamic change occurred in parallel with a 16% improvement in high-intensity endurance performance.”
The researchers recruited 15 Division 1 basketball players aged between 18 and 20 to participate in their study. The young men were randomly assigned to consume carbohydrate-based drink formulated with high-protein (36% of total calories) or an isocaloric low-protein (12% of total calories) immediately after a one hour cycling test at 70% VO2max. The men were allowed to rest for two house and then challenged on the exercise bike at 80% VO2max.
Results showed that the high-protein group recovered faster after the cycling. In addition, consuming the high-protein supplementation led to an enhancement in cerebral oxygen saturation during the second cycling test.
“It is mechanistically unclear how protein supplementation during post-exercise recovery acutely increased oxygen saturation during high-intensity exercise. Protein is a major nitrogen source in diet, which is essential for growth. One possibility accounted for the increased oxygen saturation during exercise could be associated with better endothelial adaptation after more protein supplementation,” wrote the researchers. “An alternative possibility accounted for the hemodynamic adaptation after high-protein supplementation is an improved brain mitochondria function.”
The researchers also noted that carbohydrates and not protein is the main fuel for rapid ATP synthesis during high-intensity exercise, and they proposed that the benefits observed from protein supplementation may be linked to improved brain metabolism during recovery.
“In this study, the observed improvement in high-intensity endurance performance may be explained by the oxygen-sparing effect of whey protein, which alleviates blood competition between brain and periphery (such as muscle for oxygen and skin for heat dissipation),” they added.
Volume 53, Pages 34–37, doi:
“Protein supplementation enhances cerebral oxygenation during exercise in elite basketball players”
Authors: C-F. Ho et al.