Strategies to enhance fat utilisation during exercise

J A Hawley, F Brouns, A Jeukendrup
Sports Medicine 1998, 25 (4): 241-57
Compared with the limited capacity of the human body to store carbohydrate (CHO), endogenous fat depots are large and represent a vast source of fuel for exercise. However, fatty acid (FA) oxidation is limited, especially during intense exercise, and CHO remains the major fuel for oxidative metabolism. In the search for strategies to improve athletic performance, recent interest has focused on several nutritional procedures which may theoretically promote FA oxidation, attenuate the rate of muscle glycogen depletion and improve exercise capacity. In some individuals the ingestion of caffeine improves endurance capacity, but L-carnitine supplementation has no effect on either rates of FA oxidation, muscle glycogen utilisation or performance. Likewise, the ingestion of small amounts of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) has no major effect on either fat metabolism or exercise performance. On the other hand, in endurance-trained individuals, substrate utilisation during submaximal [60% of peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak)] exercise can be altered substantially by the ingestion of a high fat (60 to 70% of energy intake), low CHO (15 to 20% of energy intake) diet for 7 to 10 days. Adaptation to such a diet, however, does not appear to alter the rate of working muscle glycogen utilisation during prolonged, moderate intensity exercise, nor consistently improve performance. At present, there is insufficient scientific evidence to recommend that athletes either ingest fat, in the form of MCTs, during exercise, or "fat-adapt" in the weeks prior to a major endurance event to improve athletic performance.

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