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Fat adaptation in well-trained athletes: effects on cell metabolism

Publication: Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism
13 January 2011


The performance of prolonged (>90 min), continuous, endurance exercise is limited by endogenous carbohydrate (CHO) stores. Accordingly, for many decades, sports nutritionists and exercise physiologists have proposed a number of diet-training strategies that have the potential to increase fatty acid availability and rates of lipid oxidation and thereby attenuate the rate of glycogen utilization during exercise. Because the acute ingestion of exogenous substrates (primarily CHO) during exercise has little effect on the rates of muscle glycogenolysis, recent studies have focused on short-term (<1–2 weeks) diet-training interventions that increase endogenous substrate stores (i.e., muscle glycogen and lipids) and alter patterns of substrate utilization during exercise. One such strategy is “fat adaptation”, an intervention in which well-trained endurance athletes consume a high-fat, low-CHO diet for up to 2 weeks while undertaking their normal training and then immediately follow this by CHO restoration (consuming a high-CHO diet and tapering for 1–3 days before a major endurance event). Compared with an isoenergetic CHO diet for the same intervention period, this “dietary periodization” protocol increases the rate of whole-body and muscle fat oxidation while attenuating the rate of muscle glycogenolysis during submaximal exercise. Of note is that these metabolic perturbations favouring the oxidation of fat persist even in the face of restored endogenous CHO stores and increased exogenous CHO availability. Here we review the current knowledge of some of the potential mechanisms by which skeletal muscle sustains high rates of fat oxidation in the face of high exogenous and endogenous CHO availability.


La performance au cours d’un exercice continu d’endurance (>90 min) est limitée par les réserves endogènes de sucres (CHO). Par conséquent les nutritionnistes du sport et les physiologistes de l’activité physique proposent depuis des décennies des programmes d’entraînement combinés à des régimes alimentaires afin d’accroître la disponibilité des acides gras et le degré d’oxydation des lipides, et ce faisant, de restreindre l’utilisation du glycogène au cours de l’effort. Du fait que l’apport de substrats exogènes (surtout les CHO) au cours d’un exercice a peu d’effet sur le taux musculaire de la glycogénolyse, des études récentes proposent des programmes de courte durée (<1–2 semaines) combinant entraînement et al.imentation pour accroître les réserves endogènes de substrats (glycogène musculaire et lipides) et pour modifier l’utilisation des substrats au cours de l’effort. « L’adaptation aux graisses » constitue un tel programme au cours duquel l’athlète d’endurance consomme des aliments riches en gras et pauvres en sucres sur une période ne dépassant pas 2 semaines et ce, tout en maintenant un régime d’entraînement normal; tout de suite après, il passe à la phase de restauration des CHO en consommant des aliments riches en sucres et en diminuant l’apport au cours des 3 jours précédant la compétition d’importance. Comparativement à un régime isoénergétique de CHO sur une même durée, la « périodisation alimentaire » augmente les taux corporel et musculaire d’oxydation des graisses tout en diminuant le taux de la glycogénolyse musculaire au cours de l’effort sous-maximal. Fait notable, ces modifications du métabolisme en faveur de l’oxydation des graisses demeurent même en présence de la restauration des réserves endogènes de CHO et d’une plus grande disponibilité des CHO exogènes. Maintenant, nous vous présentons les connaissances courantes au sujet des mécanismes potentiels permettant au muscle squelettique d’entretenir un haut taux d’oxydation des graisses malgré la disponibilité de beaucoup de CHO exogènes et endogènes.

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Published In

cover image Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism
Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism
Volume 36Number 1January 2011
Pages: 12 - 22


Received: 24 August 2010
Accepted: 6 October 2010
Version of record online: 13 January 2011


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Key Words

  1. AMP-activated protein kinase
  2. β-hydroxyacyl-CoA-dehydrogenase
  3. carnitine palmitoyl transferase
  4. fatty acid translocase
  5. glycogen
  6. intramuscular triglyceride
  7. pyruvate dehydrogenase


  1. protéine kinase activée par l'AMP
  2. bêta-hydroxyacyl-CoA déshydrogénase
  3. carnitine palmitoyl transférase
  4. translocase des acides gras
  5. glycogène
  6. triglycérides intramusculaires
  7. pyruvate déshydrogénase



Wee Kian Yeo
Health Innovations Research Institute, School of Medical Sciences, RMIT University, P.O. Box 71, Bundoora, Victoria 3083, Australia.
National Sports Institute of Malaysia, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Andrew L. Carey
Health Innovations Research Institute, School of Medical Sciences, RMIT University, P.O. Box 71, Bundoora, Victoria 3083, Australia.
Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.
Louise Burke
Department of Sports Nutrition, Australian Institute of Sport, Belconnen, ACT 2616, Australia.
Lawrence L. Spriet
Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada.
Health Innovations Research Institute, School of Medical Sciences, RMIT University, P.O. Box 71, Bundoora, Victoria 3083, Australia.

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76. Effects of a fixed-intensity of endurance training and pistacia atlantica supplementation on ATP-binding cassette G4 expression
77. References
78. Current World Literature
79. Dietary Protein and Strength Exercise

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