Metabolomics in Nutrition & Exercise Science: An Interview with Dr. David Nieman
We asked David Nieman, D.Ph., FACSM, an expert in exercise science, to share his experience with metabolomics and how it has impacted his research.
David is a professor in the College of Health Sciences at Appalachian State University and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, NC. He is a pioneer in the research area of exercise immunology. His current work is centered on investigating unique nutritional products as countermeasures to exercise- and obesity-induced immune dysfunction, inflammation, illness and oxidative stress.
Tell us about your research focus. What are you hoping to achieve?
Prolonged and intense exercise bouts induce physiologic stress, inflammation, oxidative stress, immune dysfunction and prolonged metabolic perturbations. The mission of the Human Performance Laboratory at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) is to investigate unique nutritional products and other strategies as countermeasures to exercise-induced physiologic stress.
We also conduct randomized clinical trials with obese community adults. Many of the acute indicators of exercise stress are chronically elevated, albeit at lower levels, in obese individuals. Nutritional products that are efficacious with athletes during heavy training may be of benefit to those who have placed themselves at high disease risk through excessive weight gain during adulthood.
How long have you worked with Metabolon?
The earliest metabolomics-based studies were published by research groups in China and Europe during 2009 and 2010, and I became very interested in the potential for new research discoveries using this methodology. We conducted a few metabolomics-based exercise studies in 2010 and 2011 and then started working with Metabolon in 2012.
What value has Metabolon added to your research?
We quickly learned that high-quality data generated through metabolomics-based studies demand an extensive standards reference library, rigorous quality control procedures, highly sensitive and advanced mass spectrometry technology, sophisticated bioinformatics statistical support, and experienced biochemists to help interpret the findings. Metabolon provided all of this, and even worked with us in writing our research papers.
What are some of the most significant findings you’ve made using metabolomics?
Some of our most significant metabolomics-based discoveries include:
Using metabolomics, we were the first to show that heavy exertion induced accelerated release of small phenolics from the gut following two weeks of supplementation with blueberry and green tea extract. (PLoS One. 2013 Aug 15;8(8):e72215. PMID: 23967286.)
Endurance athletes experienced a profound systemic shift in blood metabolites related to energy production, especially from the lipid super pathway, following heavy exertion. This was not fully restored to pre-exercise levels after 14 hours after recovery. (J Proteome Res. 2013;12(10):4577-84. PMID: 23984841.)
13- and 9-hydroxy-octadecadienoic acid (13-HODE + 9-HODE) increased 3.1-fold following 75-km cycling and was positively correlated with post-exercise F2-isoprostanes. These data for the first time supported the use of 13-HODE + 9-HODE as an oxidative stress biomarker in acute exercise investigations. (Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2014;307(1):R68-74. PMID: 24760997.)
Pistachios consumed before and during heavy exertion were related to the release of the trisaccharide raffinose into the blood stream and impaired performance (-5%) in endurance cyclists. Metabolomics revealed that the post-exercise increase in plasma raffinose correlated significantly with the leukotoxin 9,10-DiHOME and other oxidative stress metabolites. (PLoS One. 2014 Nov 19;9(11):e113725. PMID: 25409020.)
Please briefly summarize the research you’re presenting at Experimental Biology 2016 and what it means for athletes – both professionals and “weekend warriors.”
Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts believe they must consume sports drinks to support exercise training and competition. At the NCRC, we are interested in more healthful alternatives to sports drinks, especially fruit (PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37479. PMID: 22616015).
Bananas and pears vary in sugar and phenolic profiles, and we worked with Metabolon to measure the influence of acute banana or pear ingestion on 75-km cycling performance and recovery. Performance times were faster with fruit ingestion compared to water alone, and the athletes experienced reductions in stress hormones and inflammation.
Metabolomics revealed that 107 metabolites increased more than 2-fold during 75-km cycling when drinking only water. Our most important finding was that the overall magnitude of increase in these metabolites was cut down by half during banana or pear ingestion. Additionally, increases in metabolites unique to bananas and pears improved antioxidant capacity in the athletes during exercise.
So, fruit ingestion is not only healthy—it also supports high-level performance and a quicker exercise recovery and contributes unique phenolics that augment antioxidant capacity. (J Proteome Res. 2015 Dec 4;14(12):5367-77. PMID: 26561314.)
What’s next for the Human Performance Laboratory?
We are currently working with Metabolon and Dole Foods in an exercise-based study with two different types of bananas that differ in sugar and phenolic content. Our focus is on multiple measurements during the 2-day period after 75-km cycling to better define how banana sugar and phenolics improve the rate of recovery.
We also plan to test whether brisk walking can augment the release of gut-derived phenolics back into the body, similar to what we found during prolonged and intensive exertion. Most ingested berry polyphenols go to the colon and then pass out of the body. Our hypothesis is that the combination of brisk walking and a diet high in berry polyphenols is synergistic, stimulating the translocation of phenolics degraded by colon bacteria back into the circulation and into various tissues where healthful bioactive effects take place.
Do you see metabolomics continuing to play a role in your research and improving nutrition and exercise science, in general?
Yes, definitely. Metabolon’s technology allows us to evaluate exercise and nutrition interventions from a whole body, systems level, improving our chances of making new discoveries. I liken this to shooting at a target with a shotgun versus a single bullet—much easier to hit the target of truth.
To learn how Metabolon can help you get more meaningful research results, contact us today.