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Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans



It is usually stated that glycogen is stored in human muscle bound to water in a proportion of 1:3 g. We investigated this proportion in biopsy samples during recovery from prolonged exercise.


On two occasions, nine aerobically trained subjects (\(\dot{V}{\text{O}}_{2\hbox{max} }\) = 54.4 ± 1.05 mL kg−1 min−1; mean ± SD) dehydrated 4.6 ± 0.2 % by cycling 150 min at 65 % \(\dot{V}{\text{O}}_{2\hbox{max} }\) in a hot-dry environment (33 ± 4 °C). One hour after exercise subjects ingested 250 g of carbohydrates in 400 mL of water (REHLOW) or the same syrup plus water to match fluid losses (i.e., 3170 ± 190 mL; REHFULL). Muscle biopsies were obtained before, 1 and 4 h after exercise.


In both trials muscle water decreased from pre-exercise similarly by 13 ± 6 % and muscle glycogen by 44 ± 10 % (P < 0.05). After recovery, glycogen levels were similar in both trials (79 ± 15 and 87 ± 18 g kg−1 dry muscle; P = 0.20) while muscle water content was higher in REHFULL than in REHLOW (3814 ± 222 vs. 3459 ± 324 g kg−1 dm, respectively; P < 0.05; ES = 1.06). Despite the insufficient water provided during REHLOW, per each gram of glycogen, 3 g of water was stored in muscle (recovery ratio 1:3) while during REHFULL this ratio was higher (1:17).


Our findings agree with the long held notion that each gram of glycogen is stored in human muscle with at least 3 g of water. Higher ratios are possible (e.g., during REHFULL) likely due to water storage not bound to glycogen.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


\(\dot{V}{\text{O}}_{2\hbox{max} }\) :

Maximal oxygen consumption






Urine specific gravity


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We truly thank the participants for their dedication and effort. We thank Rafael Urrialde health and nutrition director from Coca Cola Iberia for the gracious donation of the carbohydrate powder (Powerade®). We thank Dr. Jeffrey F. Horowitz from the University of Michigan for his advice and guidance during pilot data collection. V.E.F-E. was supported by a predoctoral fellowship from the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha. This study was partially supported by a grant from the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha (PEII-2014-004-A).

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The authors report no conflicts of interest.

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Correspondence to Ricardo Mora-Rodriguez.

Additional information

Communicated by Michael Lindinger.

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Fernández-Elías, V.E., Ortega, J.F., Nelson, R.K. et al. Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol 115, 1919–1926 (2015).

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  • Sweating
  • Muscle water
  • Muscle glycogen storage
  • Oral rehydration
  • Carbohydrates