Do Protein Shakes Make You Think Faster?

In December 2013, Dutch researchers from different institutes collaborated to publish a study concluding that an exercise routine supplemented with protein can improve cognitive function, which could provide hope for prevention and treatment of cognitive decline.

The present study is the first research to examine the role that protein supplements play in brain functioning, when paired with exercise.  The researchers found that a regimen combining exercise and protein supplementation led to improvements in cognitive processing speed.  This means that these individuals could analyze and respond more quickly to information presented to them.

The study focused on elderly individuals who showed signs of frailty, and thus were at a high risk for deteriorating cognitive abilities.  These individuals were split up into four groups.  Half of the subjects followed a resistance-type exercise routine, while the other half remained inactive.  The exercise group was also split up into two smaller subgroups, one of which received a protein supplement drink twice a day, while the other received a similar drink but without the protein additive.  The group that did not exercise was also broken up into these two subgroups.

The individuals adhered to this program for 6 months.  Before the program began, the individuals did not vary significantly with respect to their cognitive levels.  After the program, the individuals who had participated in the exercise routine and were given protein drinks performed better on tasks related to cognitive processing speed than those who didn’t exercise but got the protein supplements.

Confirming previous findings, the Dutch researchers also saw an improvement in attention and memory tasks in the individuals who participated in exercise, compared to the ones who remained inactive during the program, regardless of whether they received protein drinks.

Previous evidence shows that exercise decreases the rate of cognitive decline.  The present study builds on this information by showing that protein supplements can be used to enhance cognitive abilities when an exercise routine is already in place.

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van de Rest, O., van der Zwaluw, N. L., Tieland, M., Adam, J. J., Hiddink, G. J., van Loon, L. J., & de Groot, L. C. (2013). Effect of resistance-type exercise training with or without protein supplementation on cognitive functioning in frail and pre-frail elderly: Secondary analysis of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development.


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