PhD Student in Exercise Metabolism Research Group

Department of Kinesiology

Supervisor: Stuart Phillips


What is your research about?

My research examines the effects of nutrition/dietary supplementation (specifically protein intake) on changes in muscle mass, strength, and function in older adults. In our lab, we look at rates of muscle protein synthesis (the rate at which your body builds muscle) with the use of stable isotope tracers that can be ingested (D2O) or infused intravenously (ring-13C6 phenylalanine). The focus of my current project is to determine if there is a protective effect of consuming a high protein diet on the previously mentioned outcomes during reduced daily activity with a reduction in caloric intake. We use reduced activity and a reduced caloric intake in our model as it is quite representative of a decreased appetite and reduced daily ambulation that occurs during hospitalization or illness. Previously, it has been shown that consuming large amounts of protein can stimulate muscle protein synthesis and since individuals who are hospitalized may not be able to exercise, nutrition may be a feasible strategy to offset the loss of muscle that occurs with inactivity.

What is the goal of your research?

We hope to better understand the role that protein, specifically the role that high quality protein ingestion (whey protein) plays in attenuating the loss of muscle during periods of reduced daily activity as it may have implications on nutritional provision in hospital and clinical care. We also are looking to determine whether functional changes that typically occur at the whole body level (i.e. decreases in muscle strength or maximal voluntary contraction) are reflective of changes at the muscle fibre level.

Why does your research matter?

After about the 5 th decade of life, adults begin to lose muscle mass at a rate of 1% per year with losses in strength closer to 3% per year and these losses are unfortunately accelerated during periods of disuse or reduced activity that occur with illness, surgery or hospitalization. This may result in the loss of independence or a reduction in quality of life, as older adults often do not recover from these events. That being said, older adults (>60 years of age) make up ~15% of the Canadian population but account for 45% of health care spending. This is increasingly alarming as the population of older adults is expected to double in the next 20 years and thus strategies to slow muscle loss with age are imperative.

What do you enjoy most about your research?

Hopefully our research can be translated into clinical care to improve nutrition for individuals who are unfortunately bed ridden in hospital or institutionalized care. I really enjoy the applicability of our research models and that we often have the opportunity to really impact public health knowledge. The opportunity to work with humans in our trials is also a huge draw for me. I get to meet and interact with interesting people everyday who are passionate about research and who are willing to donate their time and sometimes muscle and blood to help us answer a research question. Along with the participants, I am also surrounded by an incredible network in the department of kinesiology who are extremely supportive and always willing to collaborate.