Interactions between insulin and exercise

Biochem J. 2021 Nov 12;478(21):3827-3846. doi: 10.1042/BCJ20210185.


The interaction between insulin and exercise is an example of balancing and modifying the effects of two opposing metabolic regulatory forces under varying conditions. While insulin is secreted after food intake and is the primary hormone increasing glucose storage as glycogen and fatty acid storage as triglycerides, exercise is a condition where fuel stores need to be mobilized and oxidized. Thus, during physical activity the fuel storage effects of insulin need to be suppressed. This is done primarily by inhibiting insulin secretion during exercise as well as activating local and systemic fuel mobilizing processes. In contrast, following exercise there is a need for refilling the fuel depots mobilized during exercise, particularly the glycogen stores in muscle. This process is facilitated by an increase in insulin sensitivity of the muscles previously engaged in physical activity which directs glucose to glycogen resynthesis. In physically trained individuals, insulin sensitivity is also higher than in untrained individuals due to adaptations in the vasculature, skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. In this paper, we review the interactions between insulin and exercise during and after exercise, as well as the effects of regular exercise training on insulin action.

Keywords: exercise; glucose uptake; insulin; insulin sensitivity; muscle metabolism; physical activity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Exercise*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Glycogen / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Muscles / metabolism*


  • Insulin
  • Glycogen
  • Glucose