The future of fitness

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Professor Stuart Phillips is Professor at the Department of Kinesiology, Exercise Metabolism Research Group at McMaster University, Canada

Which aspects of your current research are proving most interesting right now?
The tremendous variability we see in terms of hypertrophy and strength gains. Some people just don’t grow – or get strong – and I’d like to know why. Not that people can’t make gains, but no matter how hard some people work, what they eat, or what programme they are on, there’s never huge positive physiological adaptations. It actually appears that no matter what nutrition or supplements the people I’m talking about take, their bodies don’t respond. I think nutrition is strongly trumped by work in the gym and that in turn is trumped by genes, so pick your parents wisely! In the next five years I would hope to look closer the genetic basis of the inherited and environmental influence of hypertrophy and strength gains with resistance training. I think this has great ramifications in sport and fitness but it has absolutely monumental possibilities in medical science.

What is going to the biggest ‘game-changing’ scientific breakthrough over the next decade in the fields of health, fitness or nutrition?
It is, with a doubt, going to be a genetic, epigenetic, or other -omic science, breakthrough. There are only a finite number of ways that a person can lift a weight and what they can eat. Supplements will continue to appear and disappear, but like drugs there are only so many new ligands to hit the receptors that we know make muscles bigger and/or stronger. You may see some drugs come around – selective androgen receptor modulators, maybe – but until the FDA grants muscle-wasting sarcopenia as a bona fide billable code those will remain a bespoke treatment.

Mike T Nelson is adjunct professor and member of the American College of Sports Medicine

Which aspects of your current research are proving most interesting right now?  
My current research is on metabolic flexibility and heart-rate variability. Metabolic flexibility is the ability of your body to use both carbs and fat at the right times. When you exercise harder, your body will shift to use more carbs, from stored glycogen. When you are exercising at a very low intensity, or just walking around during the day, your body will shift to using primarily fat as the fuel source. Metabolic flexibility looks at how well you can use both and how fast you can shift back and forth.

Ideally you can fuel your training to increase performance to maximise the positive adaptations – more muscle and strength – and still be able to switch back to using fat the correct times to potentially help improve and/or maintain body composition. Heart-rate variability (HRV) is a way to measure the status of your nervous system to help determine if you should push hard today with training or ease back a bit. New measurement systems run through your smartphone and allow a daily measurement for only a few minutes of your time. This allows you to determine when to push and also to monitor the cost of stress from training, lack of sleep, busy job, or whatever.

What is going to the biggest ‘game-changing’ scientific breakthrough over the next decade in the fields of health, fitness or nutrition?
I see two big things happening. The first is live streaming of real data that reduces the time lag between when you do something to when you see the result or data. The shorter you can make that lag, the much more powerful and actionable it becomes. For many things you now have to wait days to weeks to months to see the result. You can run a test now for EPA and DHA concentrations in the blood and tissue with an at-home test kit, but it takes weeks to see the result. What if you could do real-time blood monitoring to determine fish oil levels? I bet many more people would get closer to a more ‘ideal’ blood lipid level.

Similarly, with performance data on training, we can already measure things like speed, power, reps, volume, which is great. In the future we will be able to see live data during a training session or even rep-to-rep, such as nervous system recovery, hormone release, fuel use (fats, carbs, lactate), blood flow, and many more. This will allow athletes to train hard to get the positive adaptation they need and no more. The second is useful data. We will have so much data that we will need to know what is useful and what is just noise. Knowing a priority will allow athletes to focus on the ‘big rocks’ for training and nutrition and then drill down into the details after they get those in order. We don’t want people majoring in the minors just because they can get data on it.

Douglas Kalman is Director of Nutrition and Applied Clinical Trials at Miami Research Associates. He is based in Miami, Florida

Which aspects of your current research are proving most interesting right now?
With applicability to the sporting world, testing and evaluating different nutritional interventions and their relative effects on exercise recovery and peak performance. In addition, examining the effects of nutritional interventions on proteomic expression and nutrigenomic expression also really excite me right now.

What is going to the biggest ‘game-changing’ scientific breakthrough over the next decade in the fields of health, fitness or nutrition?
Interventions that actually alter telomerase activity, as well as slow down cellular aging processes, will have a huge impact on a few different generations across the athletic and non-athletic worlds. Functional foods that deliver a poly-therapeutic effect and taste good are on the horizon. If researchers are able to ever demonstrate that a single chemical, nutritional or intact food can actually not only affect proteomic and nutrigenomic expression, and that change in expression results in a true physiologic effect, then we will be truly able to use personalised nutrition and medicine to a greater degree than we currently are. Achieving this will be a game-changer.

Dr Jose Antonio is CEO of the the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) and professor of exercise science at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida

Which aspects of your current research are proving most interesting right now?
We have discovered that eating a very high protein diet – of 4.4 g per kilo of bodyweight per day – in resistance-trained men and women has no effect on body weight, body fat, or lean body mass. We are following up on this study with one in which we manipulate both training and diet. I would speculate that a high-protein diet – more than  2.2 g per kilo per day – coupled with a periodised bodybuilding training regimen will indeed enhance lean body mass.

What is going to the biggest ‘game-changing’ scientific breakthrough over the next decade in the fields of health, fitness or nutrition?
Often the projects or studies that are the most intriguing happen by chance. Others are the offshoot of what someone else does. Trying to predict what types of studies one will do in a decade or two would be like trying to grab water. Game-changing breakthroughs are often perceived as ‘wrong’ or ‘muddled’ science at the time they are published. It is only after years of examination does one find that the study done ten or 20 years ago was in fact game-changing.

Dr Dominic D’Agostino is Assistant Professor at the Hyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory at the University of South Florida

Which aspects of your current research are proving most interesting right now?
The observation that oral ketone supplementation can enhance metabolic efficiency, suppress appetite and increase physiological resilience has major implications for a variety of pathologies and performance applications. This has implications for the everyday athlete, hardcore athlete, warfighter and even astronaut.

What is going to the biggest ‘game-changing’ scientific breakthrough over the next decade in the fields of health, fitness or nutrition?
In 10 to 20 years I envision that people will be able to do comprehensive personalised metabolomics with a blood test and this will allow them adjust their diets for their unique physiology. The biggest ‘game-changing’ scientific breakthrough could be a wearable nanosensor on the skin – like a band-aid – that detects blood levels of glucose, ketones and specific metabolites in real time. The sensor could transmit to a smartphone app that instructs the individual to consume specific foods or supplements to optimise their physiology to metabolically manage a disease process or to optimise performance for a specific event.  This ‘quantified self’ movement is already taking place. The task now will be interpreting and utilising the data for optimising personal health and performance.

Ryan Lowery is senior research scientist at Department of Health Science and Human Performance at the University of Tampa, with a focus on sports nutrition and supplementation. He is based in Tampa, Florida

Which aspects of your current research are proving most interesting right now?
The nutrient programming concept is really intriguing. What our lab is finding is that what you eat first thing in the morning can programme your metabolism the rest of the day. We talk about this term metabolic flexibility but until recently haven’t discovered any nutritional interventions which could enhance this aspect. Bray (2010) found that high-fat feeding for breakfast enables metabolic flexibility in order to respond appropriately to carbohydrates later on in the day, while high carb feeding for breakfast leads to impairment metabolic plasticity required for responding appropriately to fats later on in the day. This could have huge implications for people trying to improve their body composition and ultimately enabling better metabolic flexibility.

What is going to the biggest ‘game-changing’ scientific breakthrough over the next decade in the fields of health, fitness or nutrition?
Over the next decade I would love to dive deeper into ketogenic dieting. I think we are just scratching the surface on the benefits of this dieting strategy.  Our lab recently did a study looking at the effects of ketogenic dieting in resistance-trained athletes and saw significant changes in body composition measures. I think that if we can study a nutritional therapy to combat disease and also improve body composition then that would be phenomenal. As for blue-sky thinking, I am very intrigued with epigenetics. I think this could be massive.

We are facing an obesity epidemic that is out of control, not only in adults, but also in children, which is even more worrying. I think there is a critical period that starts when the child is in the womb and continues for a short period after birth. I think if we can manipulate nutrition and supplementation in the mother then it can affect the development of the kid, diseases they may be predisposed to, etc.  Also, it’s so extremely difficult to do but I think we need to start studying children in this ‘critical period’ more so that we can see how slight manipulations can affect their body composition, performance, as well as intelligence. Just a thought.

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