Purpose: The impact of diet on endurance performance and cognitive function has been extensively researched in controlled settings, but there are limited observational data in field situations. This study examines relationships between nutrient intake and cognitive function following endurance exercise amongst a group of 33 recreational runners and walkers.
Methods: All participants (mean age of 43.2 years) took part in a long-distance walking event and completed diet diaries to estimate nutrient intake across three-time periods (previous day, breakfast and during the event). Anthropometric measurements were recorded. Cognitive tests, covering word recall, ruler drop and trail making tests (TMT) A and B were conducted pre- and post-exercise. Participants rated their exercise level on a validated scale. Nutrient intake data were summarised using principal components analysis to identify a nutrient intake pattern loaded towards water intake across all time periods. Regression analysis was used to ascertain relationships between water intake component scores and post-exercise cognitive function, controlling for anthropometric measures and exercise metrics (distance, duration and pace).
Results: Participants rated their exercise as 'hard-heavy' (score 14.4, ±3.2). Scores on the water intake factor were associated with significantly faster TMT A (p = 0.001) and TMT B (p = 0.005) completion times, and a tendency for improved short-term memory (p = 0.090). Water intake scores were not associated with simple reaction time (assessed via the ruler drop test).
Conclusion: These data are congruent with experimental research demonstrating a benefit of hydration on cognitive function. Further field research to confirm this relationship, supported with precise measures of body weight, is needed.