Purdue University Graduate School
Bergia Dissertation_5-5.pdf (7.39 MB)

Relations and effects of dietary protein and body composition on cardiometabolic health

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posted on 2020-05-06, 12:45 authored by Robert E BergiaRobert E Bergia

Obesity has ascended to become the primary modifiable cause of death in the United States. New evidence has called into question the utility of BMI – the typical index of obesity – in predicting cardiometabolic disturbances. The distribution of body fatness may be just as important as the total quantity. Intermuscular adipose tissue (IMAT) has emerged as a distinct subset of adipose in skeletal muscle that may be particularly metabolically deleterious. Typically, sections of either the calf or thigh are used as proxy measurements for whole-body IMAT in investigations. However, IMAT dispersion may not be consistent across tissues, instead infiltrating specific muscle or muscle compartments, and these have may have different metabolic consequences. The study described in Chapter 2 was designed to address this possibility and investigate and compare associations among thigh and calf IMAT stores with indices of cardiometabolic health. The strength of the relationship between IMAT and glucose control-related indices of cardiometabolic health was dependent upon anatomic location. Specifically, thigh IMAT is a better predictor of cardiometabolic risk that calf IMAT.

Skeletal muscle has gained increased recognition in recent years for its importance in promotion of health and wellness throughout the life course. While treatment models addressing issues of declining muscle mass and strength with age previously focused on older adults, the importance of utilizing a life course model to promote skeletal muscle health at all ages was more recently recognized. There is consistent evidence that higher-protein diets modestly improve body composition. However, women are at greater risk for not meeting protein requirements and seem to be less willing to adopt strategies to achieve greater protein intake, such as protein supplementation, for fear that it may cause ‘bulkiness’. Therefore, the study described in Chapter 3 was designed to critically evaluate the effect of whey protein supplementation on body composition changes in women via a systematic review & meta-analysis of published randomized controlled trials. It was hypothesized that whey protein supplementation would moderately improve body composition but would not cause excessive muscle hypertrophy. Consistent with our hypothesis, whey protein supplementation improved body composition by modestly (<1%) increasing lean mass, without influencing fat mass.

Dietary protein and skeletal muscle are conceptually inseparable; protein is often only considered in terms of how it impacts skeletal muscle-related outcomes. However, it is of interest to determine if the proposed beneficial effects of increased dietary protein consumption extend beyond skeletal muscle. Consumption of higher protein diets result in lower resting blood pressure, but the potential for protein to attenuate acute exercise blood pressure responses is unclear. The study described in Chapter 4 was designed to investigate the effects of meals with different amounts of protein on blood pressure responses to exercise in a randomized, cross-over trial. We hypothesized that consuming the higher-protein meal would attenuate the blood pressure responses to exercise and result in a more robust post-exercise hypotensive response. Contrary to our hypothesis, a higher-protein meal does not attenuate exercise-induced blood pressure responses compared to a lower-protein meal. These findings build upon previous research suggesting that the beneficial effect of chronically elevated protein intake on blood pressure is typically not observed in an acute setting by extending these findings to encompass blood pressure responses to acute responses to exercise.

The three studies packaged herein utilize different techniques and report on different outcomes, but conceptual threads unite these works which augment the collective findings. Future researchers investigating the effects of protein on skeletal muscle anabolism can: 1) learn of the importance of proper reflection on surrogate measures and potential for anatomic-specific effects from the IMAT findings (Chapter 2), 2) appreciate the relevance of energy and training states in modulating responses from the WP meta-analysis (Chapter 3), and 3) recognize the importance of holistic approaches and employing challenges to reveal heterogeneity from the protein and BP trial (Chapter 4). Taken together, the research presented in this dissertation forwards our understanding of the relations and effects of dietary protein with different components of body composition on cardiometabolic health.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Nutrition Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Wayne Campbell

Additional Committee Member 2

Heather Leidy

Additional Committee Member 3

James Fleet

Additional Committee Member 4

David Waters