The purpose of this study is to outline a common mistake made when the rate of oxidation of exogenous substrates during prolonged exercise is computed using 13C naturally labeled substrates. The equation proposed and commonly used in the computation does not take into account that exercise and/or exogenous substrate ingestion modifies the composition of the mixture of endogenous substrates oxidized and, consequently, the isotopic composition of CO2 arising from oxidation of endogenous substrates. The recovery of 13C and the amount of exogenous substrate oxidized are thus overestimated. An adequate procedure for the computation of exogenous substrate oxidation taking into account changes in isotopic composition of CO2 arising from oxidation of endogenous substrates is suggested. Results from a pilot experiment (4 subjects) using this procedure indicate that over 2 h of exercise (66% of maximal O2 uptake), with ingestion of 60 g of glucose, 39 +/- 4 g of glucose were oxidized. Estimates made without taking into account changes in isotopic composition of CO2 arising from oxidation of endogenous substrates range between 70 +/- 8 and 44 +/- 3 g depending on 1) the isotopic composition of exogenous glucose and 2) the isotopic composition of expired CO2 taken as reference (rest or exercise without glucose ingestion). These observations suggest that results from previous studies of exogenous substrate oxidation during exercise using 13C labeling should be used with caution.
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