Sports Medicine

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 151–164 | Cite as

Muscle Triglyceride and Glycogen in Endurance Exercise

Implications for Performance
  • Nathan A. Johnson
  • Stephen R. Stannard
  • Martin W. Thompson
Leading Article


The importance of muscle glycogen as a metabolic substrate in sustaining prolonged exercise is well acknowledged. Being stored in proximity to the site of contraction and able to sustain high rates of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) phosphorylation, glycogen is viewed as the primary fuel for the maintenance of exercise of a moderate to intense nature. As such, to ensure optimal exercise performance, endurance athletes are encouraged to maximise the availability of muscle glycogen through the ingestion of a high carbohydrate (CHO) diet prior to competition.

The skeletal muscle cell also contains significant quantities of triglyceride. Recent improvements in the ability to measure these intramyocellular triglyceride (IMTG) stores have confirmed that IMTG acts as a significant fuel substrate during prolonged exercise. While early research of the role of muscle glycogen in endurance exercise provided clear prescriptive information for the endurance-trained athlete, no such direction for optimising exercise performance is yet apparent from research concerning IMTG.

In this article, we review the processes of muscle glycogen and triglyceride storage and metabolism. Attention is given to the effects of short-term alterations in diet on muscle substrate, particularly IMTG storage, and the implications of this to endurance exercise performance and competition preparation. We demonstrate that like glycogen, IMTG formation may be relatively rapid, and its storage predominates under conditions that promote minimal glycogen formation. This observation suggests that the role of IMTG is to maintain a readily available substrate to ensure that physical activity of a moderate nature can be performed when glycogen availability is not optimal. Under these conditions, IMTG may offer a similar availability of energy as glycogen in the endurance-trained athlete. Given the potential value of this substrate, the possibility of maximising IMTG storage without compromising glycogen availability prior to competition is considered.


Muscle Glycogen Muscle Glycogen Content Muscle Glycogen Synthesis Endurance Exercise Performance Muscle Substrate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Professor Hans Hoppeler and Dr Campbell Thompson for their help. Thank you also to Dr Graham Kemp for his predilection for mathematics. No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this manuscript. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the contents of this review.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan A. Johnson
    • 1
  • Stephen R. Stannard
    • 2
  • Martin W. Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.The School of Exercise and Sport ScienceThe University of SydneyLidcombe, SydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human HealthMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

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