Toward Exercise Guidelines for Optimizing Fat Oxidation During Exercise in Obesity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression

Sports Med. 2023 Dec;53(12):2399-2416. doi: 10.1007/s40279-023-01897-y. Epub 2023 Aug 16.


Background: Exercise training performed at maximal fat oxidation (FATmax) is an efficient non-pharmacological approach for the management of obesity and its related cardio-metabolic disorders.

Objectives: Therefore, this work aimed to provide exercise intensity guidelines and training volume recommendations for maximizing fat oxidation in patients with obesity.

Methods: A systematic review of original articles published in English, Spanish or French languages was carried out in EBSCOhost, PubMed and Scopus by strictly following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. Those studies that analyzed maximal fat oxidation (MFO) and FATmax in patients with obesity (body fat > 25% for men; > 35% for women) by calculating substrate oxidation rates through indirect calorimetry during a graded exercise test with short-duration stages (< 10 min) were selected for quantitative analysis. The accuracy of relative oxygen uptake (% peak oxygen uptake [%[Formula: see text]O2peak]) and relative heart rate (% peak heart rate [%HRpeak]) for establishing FATmax reference values was investigated by analyzing their intra-individual and inter-study variation. Moreover, cluster analysis and meta-regression were used for determining the influence of biological factors and methodological procedures on MFO and FATmax.

Results: Sixty-four manuscripts were selected from 146 records; 23 studies only recruited men (n = 465), 14 studies only evaluated women (n = 575), and 27 studies included individuals from both sexes (n = 6434). The majority of the evaluated subjects were middle-aged adults (aged 40-60 y; 84%) with a poor cardiorespiratory fitness (≤ 43 mL·kg-1·min-1; 81%), and the reported MFO ranged from 0.27 to 0.33 g·min-1. The relative heart rate at FATmax (coefficient of variation [CV]: 8.8%) showed a lower intra-individual variation compared with relative oxygen uptake (CV: 17.2%). Furthermore, blood lactate levels at FATmax ranged from 1.3 to 2.7 mmol·L-1 while the speed and power output at FATmax fluctuated from 4 to 5.1 km·h-1 and 42.8-60.2 watts, respectively. Age, body mass index, cardiorespiratory fitness, FATmax, the type of ergometer and the stoichiometric equation used to calculate the MFO independently explained MFO values (R2 = 0.85; p < 0.01). The MFO in adolescents was superior in comparison with MFO observed in young and middle-aged adults. On the other hand, the MFO was higher during treadmill walking in comparison with stationary cycling. Body fat and MFO alone determined 29% of the variation in FATmax (p < 0.01), noting that individuals with body fat > 35% showed a heart rate of 61-66% HRpeak while individuals with < 35% body fat showed a heart rate between 57 and 64% HRpeak. Neither biological sex nor the analytical procedure for computing the fat oxidation kinetics were associated with MFO and FATmax.

Conclusion: Relative heart rate rather than relative oxygen uptake should be used for establishing FATmax reference values in patients with obesity. A heart rate of 61-66% HRpeak should be recommended to patients with > 35% body fat while a heart rate of 57-64% HRpeak should be recommended to patients with body fat < 35%. Moreover, training volume must be higher in adults to achieve a similar fat oxidation compared with adolescents whereas exercising on a treadmill requires a lower training volume to achieve significant fat oxidation in comparison with stationary cycling.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue* / metabolism
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise* / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Oxygen Consumption


  • Oxygen