Muscle Glycogen Metabolism and High-Intensity Exercise Performance: A Narrative Review

Sports Med. 2021 Sep;51(9):1855-1874. doi: 10.1007/s40279-021-01475-0. Epub 2021 Apr 26.


Muscle glycogen is the main substrate during high-intensity exercise and large reductions can occur after relatively short durations. Moreover, muscle glycogen is stored heterogeneously and similarly displays a heterogeneous and fiber-type specific depletion pattern with utilization in both fast- and slow-twitch fibers during high-intensity exercise, with a higher degradation rate in the former. Thus, depletion of individual fast- and slow-twitch fibers has been demonstrated despite muscle glycogen at the whole-muscle level only being moderately lowered. In addition, muscle glycogen is stored in specific subcellular compartments, which have been demonstrated to be important for muscle function and should be considered as well as global muscle glycogen availability. In the present review, we discuss the importance of glycogen metabolism for single and intermittent bouts of high-intensity exercise and outline possible underlying mechanisms for a relationship between muscle glycogen and fatigue during these types of exercise. Traditionally this relationship has been attributed to a decreased ATP resynthesis rate due to inadequate substrate availability at the whole-muscle level, but emerging evidence points to a direct coupling between muscle glycogen and steps in the excitation-contraction coupling including altered muscle excitability and calcium kinetics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise*
  • Fatigue
  • Glycogen*
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Muscles


  • Glycogen