Nutrition, physical activity and sports research

Nutrition, physical activity and sports

This research theme within the Division of Human Nutrition and Health addresses the interplay between nutrition and physical activity in order to optimize health benefits, or affect performance and recovery. Our target group ranges from patients and persons with a sedentary lifestyle to elite athletes. Emphasis is on (micro)nutrient intake and status in athletes, the role of energy and protein in the adaptive response to exercise, and the effect of exercise on gut health and the immune system.

Nutrition, physical activity and sports research topics:

(Micro)nutrient intake and status in athletes

Energy-restricted or unbalanced diets providing inadequate amounts of certain (micro-) nutrients are quite common in sports, in particular where leanness or low body mass are considered advantageous or required to meet  weight class criteria. Low nutrient intake or even deficiencies may limit training adaptation and performance, impair immunity and increase the risk of infections in athletes. Furthermore they are linked to well-established health problems like the female athlete triad. At the same time, much less is known about what makes  optimal micronutrient levels for performance and health of athletes. Until now most attention has been paid to vitamin D and iron. Better monitoring of (micro)nutrient intake and status is crucial for training and performance and to optimize nutritional counselling of athletes.

Diet and exercise to support training adaptation, performance and health

Nutrition, physical activity and sports research

Nutrition plays an important role in exercise recovery and training adaptation, and general recommendations are formulated for athletes to support optimal performance. It is recognized that nutritional requirements to optimize skeletal muscle adaptation differ between resistance and aerobic exercise. Energy restriction, in particular low carbohydrate availability, amplifies endurance training adaptation, while energy abundance is more favourable in the case of resistance exercise. Timing of nutrient ingestion and exercise is another important factor to optimize recovery and adaptation. This not only applies to athletes but is also of relevance for metabolic health in general. For example, it is known that  exercise before taking a meal  , reduces the postprandial lipidemic and glycemic response. Understanding the interactions between nutritional intake and exercise and optimizing its timing are likely to improve  training adaptation, performance and health.

Exercise stress and response

An acute bout of endurance exercise results in an inflammatory response in muscle, the local induction of numerous cytokines (‘myokines’), a reduced gut barrier function and elevated levels of several of cytokines in the circulation. This response is suggested to contribute  to the beneficial effects of regular exercise, leading to both an increased athletic performance as well as the improvement of metabolic health. However, in certain situations  an ongoing, undesirable condition of chronic inflammation can develop. This can occur for example when high volume/intensity training, combined with insufficient rest,  produces musculoskeletal trauma. This may, in turn, induce a more generalised response,  involving  various other tissues and organ systems . Ultimately, a complex of symptoms associated  with overtraining may develop. More insight in mechanisms of stress response following physical exercise and methodology to monitor these processes is warranted. This is not only relevant to improve training efficiency of athletes but also to better understand  the beneficial metabolic effects of regular exercise.

Current key projects

More research: Metabolic health