Determination of the exercise intensity that elicits maximal fat oxidation

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Jan;34(1):92-7. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200201000-00015.


Purpose: The aim of this study was to develop a test protocol to determine the exercise intensity at which fat oxidation rate is maximal (Fat(max)).

Method: Eighteen moderately trained cyclists performed a graded exercise test to exhaustion, with 5-min stages and 35-W increments (GE(35/5)). In addition, four to six continuous prolonged exercise tests (CE) at constant work rates, corresponding to the work rates of the GE test, were performed on separate days. The duration of each test was chosen so that all trials would result in an equal energy expenditure. Seven other subjects performed three different GE tests to exhaustion. The test protocols differed in stage duration and in increment size. Fat oxidation was measured using indirect calorimetry.

Results: No significant differences were found in Fat(max) determined with the GE(35/5), the average fat oxidation of the CE tests, or fat oxidation measured during the first 5 min of the CE tests (56 +/- 3, 64 +/- 3, 58 +/- 3%VO(2max), respectively). Results of the GE(35/5) protocol were used to construct an exercise intensity versus fat oxidation curve for each individual. Fat(max) was equivalent to 64 +/- 4%VO(2max) and 74 +/- 3%HR(max). The Fat(max) zone (range of intensities with fat oxidation rates within 10% of the peak rate) was located between 55 +/- 3 and 72 +/- 4%VO(2max). The contribution of fat oxidation to energy expenditure became negligible above 89 +/- 3%VO(2max) (92 +/- 1%HR(max)). When stage duration was reduced from 5 to 3 min or when increment size was reduced from 35 to 20 W, no significant differences were found in Fat(max), Fat(min), or the Fat(max) zone.

Conclusion: It is concluded that a protocol with 3-min stages and 35-W increments in work rate can be used to determine Fat(max). Fat oxidation rates are high over a large range of intensities; however, at exercise intensities above Fat(max), fat oxidation rates drop markedly.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bicycling / physiology
  • Clinical Protocols / standards*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Male
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Sensitivity and Specificity