Journal of Applied Physiology

Determinants of fat oxidation during exercise in healthy men and women: a cross-sectional study

Michelle C. Venables, Juul Achten, Asker E. Jeukendrup


The aim of the present study was to establish fat oxidation rates over a range of exercise intensities in a large group of healthy men and women. It was hypothesised that exercise intensity is of primary importance to the regulation of fat oxidation and that gender, body composition, physical activity level, and training status are secondary and can explain part of the observed interindividual variation. For this purpose, 300 healthy men and women (157 men and 143 women) performed an incremental exercise test to exhaustion on a treadmill [adapted from a previous protocol (Achten J, Venables MC, and Jeukendrup AE. Metabolism 52: 747–752, 2003)]. Substrate oxidation was determined using indirect calorimetry. For each individual, maximal fat oxidation (MFO) and the intensity at which MFO occurred (Fatmax) were determined. On average, MFO was 7.8 ± 0.13 mg·kg fat-free mass (FFM)−1·min−1 and occurred at 48.3 ± 0.9% maximal oxygen uptake (V̇o2 max), equivalent to 61.5 ± 0.6% maximal heart rate. MFO (7.4 ± 0.2 vs. 8.3 ± 0.2 mg·kg·FFM−1·min−1; P < 0.01) and Fatmax (45 ± 1 vs. 52 ± 1% V̇o2 max; P < 0.01) were significantly lower in men compared with women. When corrected for FFM, MFO was predicted by physical activity (self-reported physical activity level), V̇o2 max, and gender (R2 = 0.12) but not with fat mass. Men compared with women had lower rates of fat oxidation and an earlier shift to using carbohydrate as the dominant fuel. Physical activity, V̇o2 max, and gender explained only 12% of the interindividual variation in MFO during exercise, whereas body fatness was not a predictor. The interindividual variation in fat oxidation remains largely unexplained.

  • indirect calorimetry
  • substrate crossover
  • physical activity
View Full Text