Less Pain, More Gain - Studying ways to boost exercise results gets UNT researchers $45,000 in grants

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Above from left, Vingren, Venable, and Levitt each won grants from the National Strength and Conditioning Association for research that could help athletes train more effectively.Photo by Ahna Hubnik / URCM

Three University of North Texas researchers have been awarded grants totaling more than $45,000 to study topics that could someday help athletes and everyday fitness enthusiasts train more effectively. Faculty member Jakob Vingren, doctoral degree candidate Adam Venable and dual doctoral and master's degree candidate Danielle Levitt each received awards from the National Strength and Conditioning Association – for a total of three of the organization's five award categories – related to their work in UNT's Applied Physiology Laboratory within the College of Education's Department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation.

Vingren, an associate professor in the department, was selected for the $24,000 Young Investigator Grant. He will study how alcohol consumption affects physiological processes involved in the muscle's ability to recovery from exercise. It's an under-researched topic which he said is important to study because people who exercise regularly tend to have higher rates of alcohol use than the general population.

"The majority of the people who exercise are not athletes; they're often looking to get stronger or to tone their body, and to do that, they need to get the most out of their workout," said Vingren, who received his bachelor's and master's degrees from UNT and his doctoral degree from the University of Connecticut. "By examining the effects of alcohol consumption on performance and recovery, we're hoping to fill a gap in the research literature with data that can be used by others to make better decisions about their exercise regime – before and after they leave the gym."

For his $13,750 Doctoral Graduate Research Grant, Venable is examining the effects of supplementation treatment with curcumin – a yellow substance in turmeric – on inflammatory biomarkers and performance measures after a muscle-damaging bout of resistance exercise. It is research he said could provide a practical means for people to overcome muscle soreness and performance decrements.

When a person finishes a strenuous bout of exercise, there may immediately be mechanical muscle damage; however, additional muscle damage can also occur during the body's efforts to repair that initial muscle damage. Venable said he believes this secondary damage is a result of an inefficient immune response that actually removes healthy tissue along with the damaged tissue. It's the removal of that healthy tissue that is partly responsible for muscle pain roughly 24 to 48 hours after the initial workout. While over-the-counter painkillers excel at stopping the inflammation, Venable said those drugs slow down the healing process.

"Anti-inflammatory painkillers act on a pathway through the body that stops inflammation from occurring; however, the muscles need inflammation to heal," said Venable, who received his second master's degree in biology from UNT and is now a doctoral student in the Department of Biological Sciences in collaboration with the kinesiology program for his degree. "If our research projections are accurate, using curcumin as a treatment could provide a way to manage pain and return to function quicker."

Levitt was awarded nearly $7,500 for the Master's Graduate Research Grant to investigate how alcohol consumption affects women after strenuous, unconventional resistance exercise. Simultaneously completing two graduate degrees, Levitt is a master's student in the kinesiology program and a doctoral student in the biology department with a concentration in exercise physiology.

"Alcohol has been shown to change the way that key inflammatory cells work, but this response has not been examined when alcohol consumption follows strenuous exercise," she said. "Studies in men, however, have revealed that consuming alcohol after strenuous resistance exercise exacerbates performance decrements in the days following the exercise bout. The effect of consuming alcohol after strenuous resistance exercise on muscular performance has not been investigated in women."

Levitt added that the reality is that sometimes athletes drink alcohol – no matter what their coaches' wishes are – and she said she hopes her data can help female athletes understand that alcoholic beverages could be detrimental to their training.

"Some athletes who engage in vigorous exercises also drink alcohol, and the most frequent times for alcohol consumption can be after exercise bouts or competitions," said Levitt. "No coach wants athletes to drink; hopefully, this will give coaches some solid data that can support the advice they give athletes and also provide a stepping stone for future research."

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