Crash diets, exercise regimes, and sugar-free food policies are just a few of the many health and nutrition trends that have passed over the years. The Nutrition and Exercise Testing Lab (NExT Lab) at Ryerson conducts evidence-based research to cut through these fads, using state-of-the-art technologies to provide individuals with accurate nutrition and exercise assessments that fit their personal needs.

Launched at the start of 2015, the NExT Lab is home to a range of equipment that is unprecedented in Canada. Among its clinical research tools is the “Bod Pod,” which measures body composition and determines fat and fat-free body mass, and the indirect calorimeter, which measures metabolic rate, cardiovascular health, and calories burned—both at rest and during exercise. NExT Lab is able to leverage its research to “help the average person achieve optimal health,” according to Dr. Nick Bellissimo, Lab Director and Assistant Professor at the School of Nutrition. At the same time, the Lab adapts clinical trials to test groups with specific needs.

NExT Lab is collaborating with researchers at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital on a pilot study to identify risk factors contributing to energy imbalances in children with physical disabilities. A high proportion of children with physical disabilities are at increased risk of energy imbalances that can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Coordinated efforts are needed to identify ways to improve their health and well-being. Experiments at NExT Lab improve access to physical activities and exercise for children with physical disabilities to determine if their overall health can be improved through exercise and nutrition.

Over time, Dr. Bellissimo hopes to pinpoint overall underlying factors regulating appetite and energy balance, such as why weight gain commonly recurs after weight loss. “We see each of our clinical trials as contributing one small jigsaw puzzle piece. Over time, and as we piece our trials together, we may begin to see trends that may inform evidence-based guidelines to promote healthier body weights and metabolic health,” explains Dr. Bellissimo.

NExT Lab is also an inclusive space for the general public on a fee-for-service basis. With access to a suite of clinical research tools, a client can receive a comprehensive analysis of their cardiorespiratory fitness, fat mass, and energy requirements. Since NExT Lab has been operational, 15 nutrition students have built their capacity in clinical research by integrating behavioral, dietary, and physiological approaches to studying energy imbalances across the human lifespan. These students have also gained valuable experience in business and interpersonal skills while interacting with a diverse group of clients, including members of the Canadian Football League and other professional athletes. Dr. Bellissimo sees his NExT Lab as the premier facility for clinical trials research at Ryerson and is exploring interdisciplinary research collaborations with faculty members in Chemistry and Biology, Psychology, and Engineering. “We are gaining recognition throughout the research community as a centre of excellence related to nutrition and exercise research,” says Dr. Bellissimo. “We strive to translate our research findings into diet and exercise guidance for the average individual, so they can take greater ownership of their own health and well-being.”