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July 2021

High-Protein Energy-Restriction: Effects on Body Composition, Contractile Properties, Mood, and Sleep in Active Young College Students

Authors: Christian Roth, Lukas Rettenmaier and Michael Behringer

Author information: Department of Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology, Institute of Sport Sciences, Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany

Journal: Frontiers in Sports and Active Living - June 2021, Volume 3, Article 683327 (DOI: 10.3389/fspor.2021.683327)

Background: It is often advised to ensure a high-protein intake during energy-restricted diets. However, it is unclear whether a high-protein intake is able to maintain muscle mass and contractility in the absence of resistance training.

Materials and Methods: After 1 week of body mass maintenance (45 kcal/kg), 28 male college students not performing resistance training were randomized to either the energy-restricted (ER, 30 kcal/kg, n = 14) or the eucaloric control group (CG, 45 kcal/kg, n = 14) for 6 weeks. Both groups had their protein intake matched at 2.8 g/kg fat-free-mass and continued their habitual training throughout the study. Body composition was assessed weekly using multifrequency bioelectrical impedance analysis. Contractile properties of the m. rectus femoris were examined with Tensiomyography and MyotonPRO at weeks 1, 3, and 5 along with sleep (PSQI) and mood (POMS).

Results: The ER group revealed greater reductions in body mass (Δ −3.22 kg vs. Δ 1.90 kg, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.360), lean body mass (Δ −1.49 kg vs. Δ 0.68 kg, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.152), body cell mass (Δ −0.85 kg vs. Δ 0.59 kg, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.181), intracellular water (Δ −0.58 l vs. Δ 0.55 l, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.445) and body fat percentage (Δ −1.74% vs. Δ 1.22%, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 433) compared to the CG. Contractile properties, sleep onset, sleep duration as well as depression, fatigue and hostility did not change (p > 0.05). The PSQI score (Δ −1.43 vs. Δ −0.64, p = 0.006, partial η2 = 0.176) and vigor (Δ −2.79 vs. Δ −4.71, p = 0.040, partial η2 = 0.116) decreased significantly in the ER group and the CG, respectively.

Discussion: The present data show that a high-protein intake alone was not able to prevent lean mass loss associated with a 6-week moderate energy restriction in college students. Notably, it is unknown whether protein intake at 2.8 g/kg fat-free-mass prevented larger decreases in lean body mass. Muscle contractility was not negatively altered by this form of energy restriction. Sleep quality improved in both groups. Whether these advantages are due to the high-protein intake cannot be clarified and warrants further study. Although vigor was negatively affected in both groups, other mood parameters did not change.

In conclusion, the present data show that a high-protein intake alone was not able to prevent lean mass loss associated with a 6-week moderate energy restriction in college students in the absence of resistance training. However, the data revealed that this form of energy restriction did not negatively affect muscle contractility. Sleep quality improved in both groups. This is probably explained by the improved tryptophan to Trp-to-LCNAA ratio; however, there seems to be a ceiling effect as seen in athletes who are used to a steady protein supplementation. Whether these advantages are due to the high-protein intake cannot be clarified due to the lack of low-protein controls and warrants further study. Although vigor was negatively affected in both groups, other mood parameters did not change. In summary, decreasing energy intake moderately while increasing protein consumption does not maintain lean body mass but does maintain contractility in the absence of resistance training in male college students.

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