International collaborations at universities are not unique, says Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Daniel Moore. What’s unique is having a visiting industry scientist come to a faculty and be imbedded in the research environment for two years. That was the case with Hiroyuki Kato from Japan, whose company Ajinomoto sent him to U of T to continue his research on amino acids and nutrition in athletes with Professor Moore, whose expertise includes protein metabolism and exercise.
International collaborations at universities are not unique, says Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Daniel Moore. Visiting professors come and go all the time, but what’s unique is having a visiting industry scientist come to a faculty and be imbedded in the research environment for two years. That was the case with Hiroyuki Kato from Japan, whose company Ajinomoto sent him to U of T to continue his research on amino acids and nutrition in athletes with Professor Moore, whose expertise includes protein metabolism and exercise.
“Hiro’s studies were filling a niche that was largely untapped in sport science and nutrition research, specifically the unique needs for amino acids and protein in endurance athletes,” says Moore. Despite initial challenges – the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport was just completed when Kato arrived and Professor Moore’s Iovate/Muscletech Metabolism & Sports Science Lab wasn’t yet set up – Kato hit the ground running. “I don’t think my lab would be where it is today without Hiro’s involvement,” says Moore. “A lot of the equipment for which we now have standard operating procedures, a lot of the spreadsheets, the analysis, the design of all the pretrial nutrition came either directly from Hiro or from his collaboration with my students.”
In the process, Kato gained experience doing human research, something that was difficult to conduct in his company in Japan, but is standard procedure at U of T. Much of his time was spent by the treadmills conducting research trials involving an endurance exercise stimulus, observing athletes running from 5 to 20 kilometres before measuring their metabolism during recovery in order to identify their amino acid needs.
Before each trial, Kato would mix together up to 20 amino acids in different amounts and ratios to create “protein” drinks for the athletes. Were they any good? “No,” Moore and Kato answer in unison. “Often times the amino acids are very bitter, but our main concern was studying the physiological responses to the nutrition.” says Moore.
Their research found that post-exercise protein requirements in endurance athletes are greater than previously thought, suggesting athletes should aim for 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram rather than 1.2 to 1.4g/kg as previously recommended. The study was published in the PLOS ONE journal in June and immediately attracted media attention, including an article in The Globe and Mail.
“This was a fantastic experience for me,” says Kato, adding he particularly enjoyed doing human research. Living in Toronto is another thing he’ll miss when he goes back to Japan at the end of December. “The people in Toronto are very kind and very polite,” he says. And, he is happy his two young daughters, aged one and four, were able to learn English and experience living in a city as diverse as Toronto. “It’s been a very good opportunity for them to learn about different cultures,” says Kato.
But the benefits of a cultural and knowledge exchange work both ways, Moore points out. “I think there’s huge value in having someone from a different culture come to the lab.” Even the initial language barrier had its advantages, according to Moore, because it helped develop an important sensitivity among the students. “Making sure Hiro was part of the team was very important,” says Moore.
Moore hopes to continue relations with Ajinomoto Co., so that Kato or someone like him can come back again in the future to help with the research. That’s Kato’s wish, too.