GRAND FORKS, N.D. —Running a marathon, grab a carbohydrate bar. Lifting weights, gulp a protein shake. But climbing into a fighter jet? Butter-soaked lobster might help.
That was the surprising finding of a new military-funded study that sought to figure out what types of foods were best for pilots when missions restricted when or what they could eat. University of North Dakota researchers found that pilots who ate the fattiest foods such as butter or gravy had the quickest response times in mental tests and made fewer mistakes when flying in tricky cloud conditions.
High-carb diets trumped high-protein in performance tests.
"We wound up analyzing the data every which way but upside down. It came out consistent every time," said psychology professor Tom Petros, who conducted and reviewed the tests.
Fat has been considered a villain by some nutritionists. Earlier research in humans and animals has linked diets high in saturated fats to mental decline and shorter-term problems with memory and learning.
Athletes and others with physically demanding jobs generally focus on a high-carbohydrate diet for improved performance. The study's researchers aren't saying people should now load up on biscuits and gravy, in fact researchers said it's hard to draw conclusions from their study because more tests are needed to figure out what's behind the results. Follow-up studies begin this spring.
Military experts hope the research will eventually help improve pilots' performance. National Transportation Safety Board statistics show 80 percent of civil and military accidents are caused by human error.