Recently Dr. Paul Arciero of Skidmore College conducted the study “Diet quality improves fitness among fittest.” BTRtoday spoke to him on the phone to discuss the major points and outcomes of the study, and how protein is a key to weight loss and muscle gain.

BTRtoday (BTR): Could you describe your study?

Paul Arciero (PA): The impetus for the study [came from] the protocol I’ve developed called PRISE, which stands for protein pacing, resistance training, interval training, stretching, and endurance training. It was a catchy acronym that also incorporated the major lifestyle components that influence people’s [health]. Perfect for everyone: sedentary to exercise enthusiasts. I took this protocol and, because I had many people more of the fitness category wanting to participate in my studies, I said, “Let’s use this model and test its ability and effectiveness in a group of really trained men and women.”

BTR: I saw that there were two groups in your study. Could you elaborate on them and their purpose?

PA: [We decided to] have the control be the exercise—let that be the same. They were performing identical exercise. Men and women of the same age, same fitness, same health status so that exercise would not be a factor. Let’s see if diet alone would result in changes in their health and performance. One [group] was following a diet with slightly higher protein intake (two grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight/day) but they were also consuming an antioxidant rich diet. I compared them to another group following a slightly higher protein (1 gram/kilogram a day). Both were higher than the [average] recommendation of .8 grams/kilograms/day.

The [group consuming protein at a rate of 1 gram/kilogram/day] was consuming a healthy and generally recommended diet with supplemented foods…things like Gatorade and granola bars. The quality of the diet was the only difference. Calories were the same and the number of meals were the same.

BTR: And the antioxidant-rich group had a better outcome, correct?

PA: Body composition wise, the groups responded similarly. They all lost body fat, all gained lean muscle mass, and all had favorable [overall] changes. The main difference was physical performance [which improved in the antioxidant rich group].

BTR: Were you expecting this?

PA: As a scientist, I tried to go in with an open mind [laughs]. But antioxidants are disputed in the health community, which is why I wanted to delve into the area. They were consuming powdered versions of antioxidants from whole foods along with the higher level of protein pacing, about 20-25 grams of high quality lean protein. Such significant performance changes were surprising in a great way.

BTR: What made you interested in delving into the specific variables (i.e., PRISE) of weight loss, heart health, and fitness working in conjunction with one another? That’s a lot to juggle all at once.

PA: We’re bombarded when it comes to nutrition and exercise material. The American College of Sports and Medicine (ACSM) articles are complex, and to be perfectly honest, overzealous [laughs] into average fitness regimes. I wanted to incorporate what they recommend, make it efficient, and have people not feel like they’re being held hostage to exercise every single day. Once a day, four days a week is the RISE, which is the response to the ACSM. I also wanted to address the nutrition component. Protein pacing has really caught on [as] a number of studies have identified its efficacy.

I’m most excited about the combination of [protein pacing with] exercise. It’s not a high protein diet; it’s a sensible protein diet, making sure you consume the recommended amount of protein throughout the day by anchoring protein at each of your meals. We read about eating too much protein but the opposite is true: We’re not consuming enough, which is a cause behind obesity in the United States.

BTR: In my personal experience, I’ve noticed that I can commit to exercising and employing interval training well, but I never seem able to stick to a diet. But your protocol is simple and straightforward enough that I feel like I can.

PA: Great point. I wanted others to not feel set up for failure and not make people feel like they should exercise to the point of exhaustion every day. What we see on TV is performing; but professional athletes are taking days off in between for recovery. [Exercising to exhaustion] is pushed by the industry and individuals trying to sell and market their routines. Once a week is all you need as long as you incorporate these exercise routines. That’s what we see among the elite workout population. Yes they do their sport once a week, but they vary their exercise throughout the week. They introduce yoga, resistance training, marathon running. RISE gives the average person to derive the benefits of physical training without being intimidated. It brings back sensibility to health and exercise and nutrition.

BTR: Where do you seek to go next with your study?

PA: At this point I’ve conducted and published quite a few on this topic. My main mission now is to spread the word. The research has been wonderful but taken a lot of time, resources, and human power. The proven effectiveness of it is established in different population groups, and now I’d like to spread the word. This needs to be put out for people so that they can find peace [laughs], to engage with a healthy lifestyle. The misguided model of setting people up for failure needs to stop. The more time I’m in the lab, the less time there is to get this out. After 30 years of research, it’s time to help get this message out and get people on track to live a healthy life.

Thank you to Dr. Arciero for a great conversation and a fantastic study!