European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 118, Issue 4, pp 817–828 | Cite as

Effects of sprint interval training on ectopic lipids and tissue-specific insulin sensitivity in men with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

  • Jack A. Sargeant
  • Stephen Bawden
  • Guruprasad P. Aithal
  • Elizabeth J. Simpson
  • Ian A. Macdonald
  • Mark C. Turner
  • Jessica Cegielski
  • Kenneth Smith
  • James L. Dorling
  • Penny A. Gowland
  • Myra A. Nimmo
  • James A. KingEmail author
Original Article



This study examined the feasibility of sprint interval exercise training (SIT) for men with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its effects on intrahepatic triglyceride (IHTG), insulin sensitivity (hepatic and peripheral), visceral (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue (ScAT).


Nine men with NAFLD (age 41 ± 8 years; BMI 31.7 ± 3.1 kg m−2; IHTG 15.6 ± 8.3%) were assessed at: (1) baseline (2) after a control phase of no intervention (pre-training) and (3) after 6 weeks of SIT (4–6 maximal 30 s cycling intervals, three times per week). IHTG, VAT and ScAT were measured using magnetic resonance spectroscopy or imaging and insulin sensitivity was assessed via dual-step hyperinsulinaemic-euglycaemic clamp with [6,6-D2] glucose tracer.


Participants adhered to SIT, completing ≥ 96.7% of prescribed intervals. SIT increased peak oxygen uptake [\({\dot{V}} \text{O}_2\) peak: + 13.6% (95% CI 8.8–18.2%)] and elicited a relative reduction in IHTG [− 12.4% (− 31.6 to 6.7%)] and VAT [− 16.9% (− 24.4 to − 9.4%); n = 8], with no change in body weight or ScAT. Peripheral insulin sensitivity increased throughout the study (n = 8; significant main effect of phase) but changes from pre- to post-training were highly variable (range − 18.5 to + 58.7%) and not significant (P = 0.09), despite a moderate effect size (g* = 0.63). Hepatic insulin sensitivity was not influenced by SIT.


SIT is feasible for men with NAFLD in a controlled laboratory setting and is able to reduce IHTG and VAT in the absence of weight loss.


Exercise NAFLD Hepatic steatosis Insulin sensitivity 



Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease


Sprint interval exercise training


Intrahepatic triglyceride


Visceral adipose tissue


Subcutaneous adipose tissue


Body mass index


Type 2 diabetes mellitus


High-intensity intermittent exercise training


Magnetic resonance


Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy


Endogenous glucose production


Hepatic insulin sensitivity index


Percentage suppression of EGP by low-dose insulin infusion

\({\dot{V}} \text{O}_2\)

Peak oxygen uptake


High-density lipoprotein


Low-density lipoprotein




Non-esterified fatty acids


Homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance


Adipose tissue insulin resistance index



This research was supported by the NIHR Leicester and Nottingham Biomedical Research Centres. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. We would like to thank Sara Brown for her invaluable support during data collection, Sally Cordon for performing the insulin analysis, Paul Douglas, of Nottingham University Hospitals, Pharmacy Manufacturing Unit, for his assistance with pharmacy elements of this research and James Sanders for his support with accelerometry analysis. We would also like to thank all of the participants for their dedication to this project.

Author contributions

JAK, GPA, MAN, IAM and PAG generated the study idea and designed the protocol. JAS, EJS, SB, JAK, JC, KS, MCT and JLD collected the study data and performed the analyses. JAS, JAK, SB, JC, KS and GPA led the manuscript preparation. All authors read, edited and approved the final version of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

IAM is on the scientific advisory boards of Ikea, Nestlé and Mars Inc. All other authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Sport, Exercise and Health SciencesLoughborough UniversityLeicestershireUK
  2. 2.Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging CentreUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  3. 3.Faculty of Medicine and Health SciencesUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  4. 4.MRC-ARUK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research, Royal Derby Hospital CentreUniversity of NottinghamDerbyUK
  5. 5.College of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  6. 6.National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research CentreUniversity Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and the University of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  7. 7.National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Biomedical Research CentreNottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of NottinghamNottinghamUK

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