This study compared 24-h nutrient oxidation responses between a sedentary condition (SED) and a condition in which short 5-min bouts of moderate-intensity physical activity were performed hourly for nine consecutive hours over 4 days (MICRO). To determine whether any shifts in fuel use were due solely to increases in energy expenditure, we also studied a condition consisting of a single isoenergetic 45-min bout of moderate-intensity exercise (ONE). Twenty sedentary overweight or obese adults (10 men/10 women; 32.4 ± 6.3 yr; BMI, 30.6 ± 2.9 kg/m2) completed all three conditions (MICRO, SED, and ONE) in a randomized order. Each condition consisted of a 3-day free-living run-in followed by a 24-h stay in a whole-room calorimeter to measure total energy expenditure (TEE) and substrate utilization. Dietary fat oxidation was also assessed during the chamber stay by administering a [1-13C] oleic acid tracer at breakfast. Energy intake was matched across conditions. Both MICRO and ONE increased TEE relative to SED, resulting in a negative energy balance. HOMA-IR improved in both activity conditions. MICRO increased 24-h carbohydrate oxidation compared with both ONE and SED ( P < 0.01 for both). ONE was associated with higher 24-h total fat oxidation compared with SED, and higher 24-h dietary fat oxidation compared with both SED and MICRO. Differences in substrate oxidation remained significant after adjusting for energy balance. In overweight and obese men and women, breaking up sitting time increased reliance upon carbohydrate as fuel over 24 h, while a single energy-matched continuous bout of exercise preferentially relies upon fat over 24 h. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Insulin sensitivity, as assessed by HOMA-IR, was improved after 4 days of physical activity, independent of frequency and duration of activity bouts. Temporal patterns of activity across the day differentially affect substrate oxidation. Frequent interruptions of sedentary time with short bouts of walking primarily increase 24-h carbohydrate oxidation, whereas an energy-matched single continuous bout of moderate intensity walking primarily increased 24-h fat oxidation.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02258438.
Keywords: carbohydrate oxidation; dietary fatty acid oxidation; microbouts of activity; physical inactivity; whole-room calorimetry.