The claim: Getting in shape doesn't have to take hours in the gym. A mix of quality exercises spread throughout the week—and taking in a certain amount of protein throughout the day—is enough to create major improvements, according to a study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology.
The research: Thirty-six overweight, sedentary women and 21 sedentary male volunteers between the ages of 35 and 57 were divided into three groups. The subjects all exercised differently, but all consumed 60 grams of whey protein every day—the amount determined by prior studies to elicit a favorable body composition (fat to lean ratio) by helping maintain muscle, providing satiety, and increasing fat burn. When it came to exercise, one group was sedentary; one did intense resistance exercises, which included primarily body weight exercises such as squats, push-ups and lunges, four times a week for 45 minutes each time; and the third followed a plan that included doing interval sprint training (20 to 30 min), stretching (45 minutes), resistance training (45 min) and endurance exercise (60 min) on different days. After 16 weeks, those who followed the multidimensional routine experienced the greatest weight loss (an average of 7 lbs), waist circumference, and reduced blood sugar levels. They also had the greatest increase in lean body mass.
What it means: Performing only one type of exercise each day sounds sparse (each exercise modality was done one day a week, only once a week), but the results speak for themselves, says Paul Arciero, lead study author. "We also found that each one enhanced the other. For example, stretching enhances flexibility, so when you stretch one day, you have greater range of motion when performing resistance training the following day. And resistance training also benefits joint mobility and flexibility, and so on." Protein played a role in these results when timed in 20-gram increments during the day: Within an hour of waking, within 60 minutes post-workout (or between lunch and dinner on non-workout days), and within two hours before going to bed.
The bottom line: Exercise does not have to be intense, complicated, or difficult in order to be beneficial, says Arciero. To help people remember the regimen Arciero uses the acronym "PRISE" for protein, resistance, intervals, stretching, and endurance. "It's adaptable and feasible," he says. Try your own version by performing each of these on separate days: 45 minutes of resistance training, 20 to 30 minutes of intervals, 45 to 60 minutes of stretching, yoga, or Pilates, and 60 minutes of endurance exercise of your choice—and be sure to eat plenty of protein throughout the day.