Metabolite Concentration Changes in Humans After a Bout of Exercise: a Systematic Review of Exercise Metabolomics Studies

Sports Med Open. 2020 Feb 10;6(1):11. doi: 10.1186/s40798-020-0238-4.


Background: Exercise changes the concentrations of many metabolites, which are small molecules (< 1.5 kDa) metabolized by the reactions of human metabolism. In recent years, especially mass spectrometry-based metabolomics methods have allowed researchers to measure up to hundreds of metabolites in a single sample in a non-biased fashion. To summarize human exercise metabolomics studies to date, we conducted a systematic review that reports the results of experiments that found metabolite concentrations changes after a bout of human endurance or resistance exercise.

Methods: We carried out a systematic review following PRISMA guidelines and searched for human metabolomics studies that report metabolite concentrations before and within 24 h after endurance or resistance exercise in blood, urine, or sweat. We then displayed metabolites that significantly changed their concentration in at least two experiments.

Results: Twenty-seven studies and 57 experiments matched our search criteria and were analyzed. Within these studies, 196 metabolites changed their concentration significantly within 24 h after exercise in at least two experiments. Human biofluids contain mainly unphosphorylated metabolites as the phosphorylation of metabolites such as ATP, glycolytic intermediates, or nucleotides traps these metabolites within cells. Lactate, pyruvate, TCA cycle intermediates, fatty acids, acylcarnitines, and ketone bodies all typically increase after exercise, whereas bile acids decrease. In contrast, the concentrations of proteinogenic and non-proteinogenic amino acids change in different directions.

Conclusion: Across different exercise modes and in different subjects, exercise often consistently changes the average concentrations of metabolites that belong to energy metabolism and other branches of metabolism. This dataset is a useful resource for those that wish to study human exercise metabolism.

Keywords: Biomarker; Energy metabolism; Exercise; Metabolomics; Physiology.

Publication types

  • Review