The Precious Few Grams of Glucose During Exercise

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Aug 10;21(16):5733. doi: 10.3390/ijms21165733.


As exercise intensity exceeds 65% of maximal oxygen uptake carbohydrate energy sources predominate. However, relative to the meager 4-5 g blood glucose pool size in a postabsorptive individual (0.9-1.0 g·L-1 × 5 L blood = 18-20 kcal), carbohydrate (CHO) oxidation rates of 20 kcal·min-1 can be sustained in a healthy and fit person for one hour, if not longer, all the while euglycemia is maintained. While glucose rate of appearance (i.e., production, Ra) from splanchnic sources in a postabsorptive person can rise 2-3 fold during exercise, working muscle and adipose tissue glucose uptake must be restricted while other energy substrates such as glycogen, lactate, and fatty acids are mobilized and utilized. If not for the use of alternative energy substrates hypoglycemia would occur in less than a minute during hard exercise because blood glucose disposal rate (Rd) could easily exceed glucose production (Ra) from hepatic glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis. The goal of this paper is to present and discuss the integration of physiological, neuroendocrine, circulatory, and biochemical mechanisms necessary for maintenance of euglycemia during sustained hard physical exercise.

Keywords: euglycemia; exercise; glucose; homeostasis; lactate; metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Endurance Training*
  • Female
  • Glucagon / blood
  • Gluconeogenesis / physiology
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Male
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Exertion / physiology


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Lactic Acid
  • Glycogen
  • Glucagon