The effect of different diets and of insulin on the hormonal response to prolonged exercise

Acta Physiol Scand. 1979 Sep;107(1):19-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-1716.1979.tb06438.x.


The importance of carbohydrate availability during exercise for metabolism and plasma hormone levels was studied. Seven healthy men ran on a treadmill at 70% of individual maximal oxygen uptake having eaten a diet low (F) or high (CH) in carbohydrate through 4 days. At exhaustion the subjects were encouraged to continue to run while glucose infusion increased plasma glucose to preexercise levels. Forearm venous blood, biopsies from vastus muscle and expiratory gas were analyzed. Time to exhaustion was longer in CH- (106 +/- 5 min (S.E.)) than in F-expts. (64 +/- 6). During exercise, overall carbohydrate combustion rate, muscular glycogen depletion and glucose and lactate concentrations, carbohydrate metabolites in plasma, and estimated rate of hepatic glucose production were higher, fat metabolites lower, and the decrease in plasma glucose slower in CH- than in F-expts. Plasma norepinephrine increased and insulin decreased similarly in CH- and F-expts., whereas the increase in glucagon, epinephrine, growth hormone and cortisol was enhanced in F-expts. Glucose infusion eliminated hypoglycemic symptoms but did not substantially increase performance time. During the infusion epinephrine decreased markedly and glucagon even to preexercise levels. Infusion of insulin (to 436% of preexercise concentration) in addition to glucose in F-expts. did not change the plasma levels of the other hormones more than infusion of glucose only but reduced fat metabolites in plasma. At exhaustion muscular glycogen depletion was slow, and the glucose gradient between plasma and sarcoplasma as well as the muscular glucose 6-phosphate concentration had decreased.

Conclusions: The preceding diet modifies the energy depots, the state of which (as regards size, receptors and enzymes) is of prime importance for metabolism during prolonged exercise. Plentiful carbohydrate stores favor both glucose oxidation and lactate production. During exercise norepinephrine increases and insulin decreases independent of plasma glucose changes whereas receptors sensitive to glucose privation but not to acute changes in insulin levels enhance the exercise-induced secretion of glucagon, epinephrine, growth hormone and cortisol. Abolition of cerebral hypoglycemia does not inevitably increase performance time, because elimination of the hypoglycemia may not abolish muscular energy lack.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism*
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology
  • Energy Metabolism* / drug effects
  • Glucagon / metabolism
  • Glucose / pharmacology
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Growth Hormone / metabolism
  • Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin / pharmacology*
  • Lactates / metabolism
  • Male
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Pyruvates / metabolism
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Time Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Hormones
  • Insulin
  • Lactates
  • Pyruvates
  • Growth Hormone
  • Glycogen
  • Glucagon
  • Glucose
  • Hydrocortisone