The UNC NRI is home to one of the few metabolic chambers (whole room calorimeters) in the country and to the only one in the sate of North Carolina. This unique tool offers the most accurate way available to assess metabolism because it measures energy expenditure over an extended period of time, usually around 24 hours. Through a designated air=handling system, air locks and measured air exchange, the metabolic chamber measures a person’s rate of metabolism within +/-2% accuracy. This allows the NRI the unique opportunity to develop studies which will test the role of nutrients, genetics, exercise and other factors on metabolism. This groundbreaking capability allows NRI researchers to develop methods to further understand why metabolism is different among individuals.

In 2010, for the first time, NRI’s chamber was used to determine whether there is an “after-burn” of calories after we stop vigorous exercise. We all recognize that , after exertion, we are hot and sweaty. The NRI’s Karen Corbin, Ph.D., R.D., along with NCRC partners from Appalachian State University, conducted a significant study to address this question using the NRI’s metabolic chamber. In the study, ten male subjects (ages 22 to 33 years) completed two separate 24-hour visits under isocaloric conditions, and they rode a stationary bicycle in the NRI metabolic chamber. The study found that a 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increased metabolic rate for up to 19 hours after ceasing the exercise, resulting in 50% more calories being burned than from during the exercise period alone. The investigators were able to detect these changes because the metabolic chamber is so sensitive (it can detect as small a change a one half calorie per minute). This study at the UNC NRI metabolic chamber may hold significant implications for weight loss and management.

As demonstrated with this exercise study, the chamber allows NRI researchers the ability to learn about whole-body metabolism as well as individual components of that metabolism. This new insight will help the NRI explain how people’s metabolisms behave differently under difference conditions.