Metabolic response to exercise

J Endocrinol Invest. 2003 Sep;26(9):851-4. doi: 10.1007/BF03345235.


At the beginning, the survival of humans was strictly related to their physical capacity. There was the need to resist predators and to provide food and water for life. Achieving these goals required a prompt and efficient energy system capable of sustaining either high intensity or maintaining prolonged physical activity. Energy for skeletal muscle contraction is supplied by anaerobic and aerobic metabolic pathways. The former can allow short bursts of intense physical activity (60-90 sec) and utilizes as energetic source the phosphocreatine shuttle and anaerobic glycolysis. The aerobic system is the most efficient ATP source for skeletal muscle. The oxidative phosporylation of carbohydrates, fats and, to a minor extent, proteins, can sustain physical activity for many hours. Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel for working muscle and their contribution to total fuel oxidation is positively related to the intensity of exercise. The first metabolic pathways of carbohydrate metabolism to be involved are skeletal muscle glycogenolysis and glycolysis. Later circulating glucose, formed through activated gluconeogenesis, becomes an important energetic source. Among glucose metabolites, lactate plays a primary role as either direct or indirect (gluconeogenesis) energy source for contracting skeletal muscle. Fat oxidation plays a primary role during either low-moderate intensity exercise or protracted physical activity (over 90-120 min). Severe muscle glycogen depletion results in increased rates of muscle proteolysis and branched chain amino acid oxidation. Endurance training ameliorates physical performance by improving cardiopulmonary efficiency and optimizing skeletal muscle supply and oxidation of substrates.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Physical Endurance


  • Lactic Acid
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Glycogen
  • Glucose