Role of fat metabolism in exercise

Clin Sports Med. 1984 Jul;3(3):605-21.


Fat and carbohydrate are the two major energy sources used during exercise. Either source can predominate, depending upon the duration and intensity of exercise, degree of prior physical conditioning, and the composition of the diet consumed in the days prior to a bout of exercise. Fatty acid oxidation can contribute 50 to 60 per cent of the energy expenditure during a bout of low intensity exercise of long duration. Strenuous submaximal exercise requiring 65 to 80 per cent of VO2 max will utilize less fat (10 to 45 per cent of the energy expended). Exercise training is accompanied by metabolic adaptations that occur in skeletal muscle and adipose tissue and that facilitate a greater delivery and oxidation of fatty acids during exercise. The trained state is characterized by an increased flux of fatty acids through smaller pools of adipose tissue energy. This is reflected by smaller, more metabolically active adipose cells in smaller adipose tissue depots. Peak blood concentrations of free fatty acids and ketone bodies are lower during and following exercise in trained individuals, probably due to increased capacity of the skeletal musculature to oxidize these energy sources. Trained individuals oxidize more fat and less carbohydrate than untrained subjects when performing submaximal work of the same absolute intensity. This increased capacity to utilize energy from fat conserves crucial muscle and liver glycogen stores and can contribute to increased endurance. Further benefits of the enhanced lipid metabolism accompanying chronic aerobic exercise training are decreased cardiac risk factors. Exercise training results in lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides and increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol. High-fat diets are not recommended because of their association with atherosclerotic heart disease. Recent evidence suggests that low-fat high-carbohydrate diets may increase blood triglycerides and reduce high density lipoproteins. This suggests that the chronic ingestion of diets that are extreme in their composition of either fat or carbohydrate should be approached with caution in health-conscious athletes, as well as in sedentary individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutritive Value
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Rats


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats