The roles of insulin and catecholamines in the glucoregulatory response during intense exercise and early recovery in insulin-dependent diabetic and control subjects

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1993 Mar;76(3):566-73. doi: 10.1210/jcem.76.3.8445012.


Intense exercise is associated with a marked stimulation of glucose production (Ra), a somewhat smaller increment in its utilization (Rd) (and therefore hyperglycemia), large increases in plasma catecholamines, and moderate hyperglucagonemia. The hyperglycemia increases in recovery and is accompanied by hyperinsulinemia. Because these adaptations are unique to intense exercise, we tested the physiological significance of the hyperinsulinemia by exercising six fit, postabsorptive young male subjects with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) after overnight glycemic normalization by iv insulin, keeping its infusion rate constant during and for 2 h after 100% maximum VO2 cycle ergometer exercise to exhaustion (12 min) (no postexercise hyperinsulinemia). Their responses were compared with those of matched control subjects studied on two separate occasions, once without intervention (physiological hyperinsulinemia, n = 6) and again with a 0.05 U/kg iv bolus at exhaustion (postexercise supraphysiological hyperinsulinemia, n = 5). In all three study protocols, Ra increased by 7-fold, and Rd by 4-fold at exhaustion, and Ra declined in early recovery at the same rates. Therefore, the early recovery hyperinsulinemia is not required to return Ra to preexercise levels, and excessive hyperinsulinemia does not accelerate this decline. We infer that the catecholamine increments and decrements are the prime regulators of Ra (correlations of Ra vs. norepinephrine or epinephrine, P < 0.001 in the three studies), with a smaller contribution from the concurrent hyperglucagonemia. Rd, in contrast, was significantly affected by insulin. In the IDDM subjects, Rd remained at the same rate as Ra through most of recovery, resulting in sustained hyperglycemia and decreased glucose MCR, vs. the control subjects. This hyperglycemia compensated for the abnormal MCR, such that Rd was comparable to that in the control subjects. With the insulin bolus, the Rd elevation was sustained longer compared to the study without bolus, resulting in mild hypoglycemia successfully counterregulated by an increase in Ra. Thus, the principal regulators of the marked exercise increase and rapid recovery decrease in Ra are probably the catecholamines. The postexercise hyperinsulinemia is required for the MCR response and to return plasma glucose concentrations to preexercise levels. Different therapeutic strategies are required in persons with IDDM undergoing strenuous vs. moderate exercise, because of their inability to generate the postexercise hyperinsulinemia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / blood
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / physiopathology
  • Epinephrine / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin / physiology*
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Reference Values


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine