Fuel Selection in Skeletal Muscle Exercising at Low Intensity; Reliance on Carbohydrate in Very Sedentary Individuals

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3 Scopus citations


Background: Resting skeletal muscle in insulin resistance prefers to oxidize carbohydrate rather than lipid, exhibiting metabolic inflexibility. Although this is established in resting muscle, complexities involved in directly measuring fuel oxidation using indirect calorimetry across a muscle bed have limited studies of this phenomenon in working skeletal muscle. During mild exercise and at rest, whole-body indirect calorimetry imperfectly estimates muscle fuel oxidation. We provide evidence that a method termed "ΔRER"can reasonably estimate fuel oxidation in skeletal muscle activated by exercise. Methods: Completely sedentary volunteers (n = 20, age 31 ± 2 years, V˙O2peak 24.4 ± 1.5 mL O2 per min/kg) underwent glucose clamps to determine insulin sensitivity and graded exercise consisting of three periods of mild steady-state cycle ergometry (15, 30, 45 watts, or 10%, 20%, and 30% of maximum power) with measurements of whole-body gas exchange. ΔRER, the RER in working muscle, was calculated as (V˙CO2exercise-V˙CO2rest)/(V˙O2exercise-V˙O2rest), from which the fraction of fuel accounted for by lipid was estimated. Results: Lactate levels were low and stable during steady-state exercise. Muscle biopsies were used to estimate mitochondrial content. The rise of V˙O2 at onset of exercise followed a monoexponential function, with a time constant of 51 ± 7 sec, typical of skeletal muscle; the average O2 cost of work was about 12 mL O2/watt/min, representing a mechanical efficiency of about 24%. At work rates of 30 or 45 watts, active muscle relied predominantly on carbohydrate, independent of insulin sensitivity within this group of very sedentary volunteers. Conclusions: The fraction of muscle fuel oxidation from fat was predicted by power output (P < 0.001) and citrate synthase activity (P < 0.05), indicating that low mitochondrial content may be the main driver of fuel choice in sedentary people, independent of insulin sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-24
Number of pages9
JournalMetabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023


  • exercise
  • indirect calorimetry
  • metabolic flexibility
  • skeletal muscle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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