, 14:150 | Cite as

The altered human serum metabolome induced by a marathon

  • Zinandré Stander
  • Laneke Luies
  • Lodewyk J. Mienie
  • Karen M. Keane
  • Glyn Howatson
  • Tom Clifford
  • Emma J. Stevenson
  • Du Toit LootsEmail author
Original Article



Endurance races have been associated with a substantial amount of adverse effects which could lead to chronic disease and long-term performance impairment. However, little is known about the holistic metabolic changes occurring within the serum metabolome of athletes after the completion of a marathon.


Considering this, the aim of this study was to better characterize the acute metabolic changes induced by a marathon.


Using an untargeted two dimensional gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry metabolomics approach, pre- and post-marathon serum samples of 31 athletes were analyzed and compared to identify those metabolites varying the most after the marathon perturbation.


Principle component analysis of the comparative groups indicated natural differentiation due to variation in the total metabolite profiles. Elevated concentrations of carbohydrates, fatty acids, tricarboxylic acid cycle intermediates, ketones and reduced concentrations of amino acids indicated a metabolic shift between various fuel substrate systems. Additionally, elevated odd-chain fatty acids and α-hydroxy acids indicated the utilization of α-oxidation and autophagy as alternative energy-producing mechanisms. Adaptations in gut microbe-associated markers were also observed and correlated with the metabolic flexibility of the athlete.


From these results it is evident that a marathon places immense strain on the energy-producing pathways of the athlete, leading to extensive protein degradation, oxidative stress, mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 inhibition and autophagy. A better understanding of this metabolic shift could provide new insights for optimizing athletic performance, developing more efficient nutrition regimens and identify strategies to improve recovery.


Marathon Serum Metabolomics Metabolite markers Fuel substrates 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Mari van Reenen for assistance with statistical analysis, Mrs. Derylize Beukes-Maasdorp for sample analysis and Prof. Nico L. Smit for initiating the collaboration.

Author contributions

The concept and study were designed by DTL, ZS, GH, TC, KMK and EJS; samples were acquired from the Northumbria University in collaboration with GH, TC, KMK and EMS. ZS was responsible for manuscript drafting, data analysis and interpretation, the latter of which was assisted by DTL, LL and LJM. LL, LJM and DTL were involved in repeated manuscript reviewing, of which LL was greatly involved with structural (format) editing. All of the authors revised and approved the final version of this manuscript.


The authors have no specific funding to report.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest, and that this manuscript, and the work described therein, is unpublished and has not been submitted for publication elsewhere.

Ethical approval

Ethical approval for this investigation, conducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki and International Conference on Harmonization Guidelines, was obtained from the Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (Reference Number: HLSTC120716).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individuals included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human MetabolomicsNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa
  2. 2.SAMRC/NHLS/UCT Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Division of Medical Microbiology, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  3. 3.Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Department of Sport, Exercise and RehabilitationNorthumbria UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK
  4. 4.Water Research Group, School of Environmental Sciences and DevelopmentNorth-West UniversityPotchefstroomSouth Africa
  5. 5.Human Nutrition Research Centre, Institute of Cellular MedicineNewcastle UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK

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