Carbohydrate ingestion during prolonged exercise: effects on metabolism and performance

Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1991;19:1-40.


It is well recognized that energy from CHO oxidation is required to perform prolonged strenuous (greater than 60% VO2 max) exercise. During the past 25 years, the concept has developed that muscle glycogen is the predominant source of CHO energy for strenuous exercise; as a result, the potential energy contribution of blood glucose has been somewhat overlooked. Although during the first hour of exercise at 70-75% VO2max, most of the CHO energy is derived from muscle glycogen, it is clear that the contribution of muscle glycogen decreases over time as muscle glycogen stores become depleted, and that blood glucose uptake and oxidation increase progressively to maintain CHO oxidation (Fig. 1.7). We theorize that over the course of several hours of strenuous exercise (i.e., 3-4 h), blood glucose and muscle glycogen contribute equal amounts of CHO energy, making blood glucose at least as important as muscle glycogen as a CHO source. During the latter stages of exercise, blood glucose can potentially provide all of the CHO energy needed to support exercise at 70-75% VO2max if blood glucose availability is maintained. During prolonged exercise in the fasted state, however, blood glucose concentration often decreases owing to depletion of liver glycogen stores. This relative hypoglycemia, although only occasionally severe enough to result in fatigue from neuroglucopenia, causes fatigue by limiting blood glucose (and therefore total CHO) oxidation. The primary purpose of CHO ingestion during continuous strenuous exercise is to maintain blood glucose concentration and thus CHO oxidation and exercise tolerance during the latter stages of prolonged exercise. CHO feeding throughout continuous exercise does not alter muscle glycogen use. It appears that blood glucose must be supplemented at a rate of approximately 1 g/min late in exercise. Feeding sufficient amounts of CHO 30 minutes before fatigue is as effective as ingesting CHO throughout exercise in maintaining blood glucose availability and CHO oxidation late in exercise. Most persons should not wait, however, until they are fatigued before ingesting CHO, because it appears that glucose entry into the blood does not occur rapidly enough at this time. It also may be advantageous to ingest CHO throughout intermittent or low-intensity exercise rather than toward the end of exercise because of the potential for glycogen synthesis in resting muscle fibers. Finally, CHO ingestion during prolonged strenuous exercise delays by approximately 45 minutes but does not prevent fatigue, suggesting that factors other than CHO availability eventually cause fatigue.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bicycling
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver Glycogen / metabolism
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Liver Glycogen
  • Glycogen