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5 minutes with Olly Witard

Olly Witard recently joined King’s as a Senior Lecture in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition in the Centre for Human & Applied Physiological Sciences. His research interests include protein nutrition, exercise and skeletal muscle physiology with application to healthy ageing and training adaptations. In his spare time, he spends times with his daughter and partner and is a big Manchester United fan. We took 5 minutes with Olly to learn more about his career, research interests and life outside of work.

5-min-with-olly-witard

Briefly, tell me about your background and career up to this point at King’s?  

I am a Senior Lecturer in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition in the Centre for Human and Applied Physiological Sciences (CHAPS), School of Basic & Medical Biosciences. I have a BSc (First class, Hons) in Sport and Exercise Science, MSc in Exercise Physiology and PhD entitled ‘Response of Muscle Protein Turnover to Exercise and Nutrition’ supervised by Professors Kevin Tipton and Asker Jeukendrup at The University of Birmingham. My post-doctoral work (University of Birmingham) was funded by GlaxoSmithKline and investigated ‘The Maximal Effective Dose of Whey Protein for Stimulating Muscle Protein Synthesis in Young Men’. I was a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at The University of Stirling before joining King’s in Summer 2019.  

What research are you currently working on?  

I am interested in understanding the physiology that underpins why we lose skeletal muscle mass and quality with age. My research explores the role of exercise and novel nutritional interventions – primarily protein nutrition – to offset age-related perturbations in skeletal muscle metabolism. I can measure protein turnover in human skeletal muscle using stable isotopic tracer methodology. I also apply these techniques to athletic populations to optimise training adaptations, body composition and performance. 

What is a typical day like for you?  

Like most academics, no two days are the same. One day I could be running human metabolic trials in the exercise physiology laboratory, extracting muscle samples from volunteers using the muscle biopsy technique. The next day, I could be analysing the metabolic characteristics of this muscle tissue. I also love to teach. So, I spend a lot of time preparing and delivering material using innovative teaching methods such as the flipped classroom approach.  

Where is your research area heading in the next 5 years?  

I am particularly interested in comparing animal-derived proteins with plant-based proteins in the context of skeletal muscle health in older adults. While there is a general consensus that animal proteins such as milk and beef are more capable of supporting muscle health than plant proteins, this comparison is restricted to only two plant proteins. Namely soy and wheat. With so many other plant proteins to choose from (corn, potato, pea, quinoa), there is still much to understand about the anabolic potential of plant proteins.  

What would you like members of our school to most know about you and your research area?  

I would like members of our school to know I am very approachable and would value opportunities to collaborate with different kinds of investigators in our School. I am interested in the underappreciated metabolic roles of skeletal muscle including the regulation of glucose homeostasis with application to diabetes. Then with obesity management, we should be striving for “healthy weight loss”, i.e. losing fat mass, but retaining muscle mass. I would welcome any discussions with interested collaborators.   

What is your favourite part of your current role?  

I thrive in a team environment. Based on early experiences, there is great emphasis on a team approach here in CHAPS. Given my background in nutrition and exercise metabolism, I feel I offer valuable new skills to the team.  

What do you do with your time outside of academia?  

I spend as much quality time as possible with my 2-year-old daughter and my partner. In addition to enjoying parenthood, I am a sports fanatic. I’m a big Manchester United fan and all things England. I enjoy running and playing football. I am extremely competitive. Who thought a game of ten pin bowling could be so important?! 

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?   

 Invest in knowledge and research techniques. Always have a 5-year plan. Unless you know where you want to go, you can’t get there.   

Who do you look up to (inside or outside of academia)?  

My PhD supervisor and now great friend, Professor Kevin Tipton from Durham University. He has many qualities that I believe underpin being a good scientist, person and colleague.  

Any leaving remarks that you would like other members of our school to know about you?  

I am giving a talk alongside Dr Jessica Piasecki (International athlete) in an evening lecture entitled ‘Connecting Science and Performance: Fuelling for Athletes’ on 13th November 2019. This event should be a thought-provoking and enjoyable evening - do come along! 

QUICK-FIRE:  

Favourite Movie: Forrest Gump 

Favourite Book: To Kill a Mocking Bird  

Favourite TV Show: Location Location 

Favourite Scientist: Professor Mark Tarnopolsky. His work on gender differences in substrate metabolism was central to my UG dissertation project. Excellent speaker and his brain operates on a different level. A genius! But he is down to earth and always has time for students/colleagues.    

In this story

Oliver  Witard

Oliver Witard

Senior Lecturer in Exercise Metabolism & Nutrition