‘The timing of daily meals is important for our metabolism. It’s easy to change how frequently we eat.’
James Betts is a Reader (Associate Professor) in Nutrition, Metabolism and Statistics in the Department for Health at the University of Bath. He is interested in energy metabolism, and how components of energy balance interact to regulate human health and physiological function.
What is your research about?
I am interested in the effect of nutrition on human physiology. In particular, I have always been interested in energy metabolism and therefore the amount, type and timing of macronutrient ingestion. Recently my work has become most focused on the interactions between time and energy balance, for example considering the frequency or regularity of eating relative to other daily events such as exercise, sleep and other eating occasions.
How did you end up working in this field?
I remember already being fascinated by nutrition during my school days. I’ve also always played sports, so I was keen to study the scientific basis of exercise at University. Loughborough was a natural progression for me and it was there that I participated in countless experiments as an undergraduate. In my final year, I started conducting research, and haven’t looked back since. I studied the effects of taking vitamin C and E for six weeks on oxidative stress and muscle damage after exercise. (More recently, I submitted and published this work). That experience galvanised my passion for scientific research. During my PhD, supervised by Clyde Williams, I continued studying metabolism after exercise, but looked at carbohydrate and protein ingestion instead. I have maintained this interest in how exercise interacts with eating but now with greater focus on how the timing of nutrients affects metabolic regulation and health.
Why is your work important?
All studies of nutrition can be broadly categorised under the headings of how much (i.e. dose) of what (i.e. type) we eat when (i.e. timing). Mainstream media and primary research focus on the first two. However, the timing of daily meals is important for our metabolism. It’s easy to change how frequently we eat, and research is increasingly showing that we can optimise this to be healthier. Changing how frequently we eat might also help counter obesity and associated chronic diseases. These conditions are undoubtedly a great public health challenge in our generation and represent an incredible burden to many individuals, the economy and society.
What does your typical day, in and out of the lab/classroom involve?
I enjoy that my job is so varied and I get to meet many people by working on human metabolism. While well-controlled experiments are repetitive, I am always learning. My typical day starts taking adipose and muscle samples from our volunteers who fasted overnight. When not in the laboratory, I am either writing scientific papers and grant applications, or advising my students.