Dr. Shawn Arent; A Look at Stress and Performance

   For this week’s blog post I’ll be discussing the research scientist that I am planning on interviewing for the scientist interview. Currently my intended major is exercise science so I thought it was only logical to interview a research scientist in my field to grasp a better understanding of what I can expect in the future. His name is Dr. Shawn Arent; he’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at Rutgers University.  He is also the Director of the Center for Health & Human Performance in the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health.  He is the Director of the Graduate Program in Kinesiology & Applied Physiology as well as the current Vice President of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. A link to his full biographical page can be found here.

Dr. Arent’s research focuses on the relationship between physical activity and stress and the implications for health and performance, with an emphasis on underlying mechanisms.  His recent work has focused on physiological responses to training-related stressors and their contribution to optimal performance and recovery.  He is specifically interested in the potential efficacy of acute and chronic resistance training for improving functional capabilities. This interests me especially because as a runner I am constantly intrigued in the potential effects that stress and fatigue can have on running performance. Recently I also applied to one of Dr. Arent’s studies that essentially set out to test the effects of a new weight loss drug on performance and body composition of generally active individuals with body fat above the normal range. I suppose it is both good and unfortunate that I did not qualify for the study, but I do look forward to the opportunity to discuss this research further with Dr.Arent if he is able to participate in my interview.

Run Faster, Run Smarter

   As most people at one point or another in their lives have had the unpleasant experience of having to go for a run, most can testify to the discomfort experienced that would make anyone think twice about doing it again. However, for those who do find a certain enjoyment from the sport science is now saying that it is  a case of mind over matter instead of strictly physical. Writers over at  Scientific American  are now reading into studies that claim the benefits a runner can yield from a positive mental state to overall improve their performance. The article listed five key steps in order to improve performance which were setting a goal, learning to deal with pain, getting competitive, talking to yourself, and picturing it. All these require a mental aspect that can help aid a runner when his body is on the brink of giving out.

Dealing with pain, talking to yourself, and picturing it all require that a runner look inside them self rather than focusing on what they’re feeling or how much of a race is left. It’s that mental strength that helps push them beyond that which otherwise would’ve been their “wall”, or point of giving up. Setting a goal and getting competitive are more organizational skills are require that a runner always keep in mind what their purpose is and that there is always someone to beat.I found this article to be interesting because even in a sport that is so involved with physicality,running requires an even greater deal of mental strength. Even the most athletic runners can be beaten out  by the runner with a stronger mentality on any given day. Using these skills can help elevate anyone’s performance from the most skilled runner, to the runner just looking to cross the finish line.

The Underline Cause of a Generation at Risk

   Sharing drinks over a plate of delicious food has become the common ground for socializing among all ethnic backgrounds; however researchers are now saying to pass on that extra serving of steak and ribs in exchange for something healthier. Studies suggest that consumption of red meat has a direct link to an increase in risks for health related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and an increase in body fat. All things said, the negative health related issues correlated with red meat has been passed around in science for years, and has brought about the push for lower fat healthier alternatives in restaurants and grocery stores across the world. What we are only now starting to understand is that the negative effects that carry on from parent to offspring. The consumption of red meat in the United States is a leading cause of health related diseases and predisposes future generations to those same risks.

A study published by investigator Stephen O’Keefe, a nutritional gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh, was released involving the immediate effect that a change in diet has on the body. The study focused on trading the typical diets of two groups: African-Americans, who are at high risk for colon cancer, and rural South Africans, who have a much lower risk for the disease. A two week period consisted of eating a diet low in animal protein, and high in fiber produced a significant decrease in inflammation and levels of several biomarkers considered predictive of colon cancer risk by African Americans. At the same time, the South African participants’ level of risk increased when consuming the typical diet of African Americans rich in animal protein. The information done on both studies can be found here.

Though this research speaks greatly about the negative effects of red meat, it fails to provide any information concerning the possibility of these risks being transferred from generation to generation. That’s where the research conducted by Tine Rask Licht, professor and head of the Research Group for Microbiology and Immunology, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Soborg, Denmark comes into play. Up until now the general belief was that the damage done to an individual’s body was solely an issue that pertained to that individual and nothing else. When the notion that red meat consumption has an adverse effect on offspring was presented attention was immediately drawn to a genetic factor as a potential culprit. However, the reality lies not within a genetic disposition but in an unhealthy lifestyle that is passed down from parent to child. Martin Laursen, a PhD student at Technical University of Denmark, and colleagues compared the gut microbiotas of two sets of infants, one born from a random sample of healthy mothers and the other born from obese mothers. The researchers analyzed stool samples from the children at nine months and 18 months. By nine months, most children have transitioned, at least partially, to a complementary diet. The major determinants of gut microbiota development were breastfeeding duration and composition of the complementary diet. In both sets, gut microbial composition were strongly affected by introduction of family foods with high protein and fiber contents.The research conducted for the study can be found here.

Once again this all proves to be informative and useful information, but what exactly does it mean in the grand scheme of things? The information that this research provides serves less as a groundbreaking discovery and more as a second look at the real causes behind a country that is undergoing increasingly rapid rates of obesity in the last 100 years. Placing blame on obesity as a “genetic disorder”, at least in most cases, is no longer a suitable excuse for the condition and health related complications that accompany it. On its own excessive amounts of red meat can be to blame for a portion of the health related diseases in the United States, but ultimately no one is being force feed copious amounts of red meat anywhere in the world. The real cause of health related sickness in the United States and what ensures that it will get passed down from generation to generation, each one getting far worse, is an imbalance in dietary structure coupled with a society that emphasizes red meat consumption.