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Muscle Glycogen Synthesis Before and After Exercise

Summary

The importance of carbohydrates as a fuel source during endurance exercise has been known for 60 years. With the advent of the muscle biopsy needle in the 1960s, it was determined that the major source of carbohydrate during exercise was the muscle glycogen stores. It was demonstrated that the capacity to exercise at intensities between 65 to 75% V̇O2max was related to the pre-exercise level of muscle glycogen, i.e. the greater the muscle glycogen stores, the longer the exercise time to exhaustion. Because of the paramount importance of muscle glycogen during prolonged, intense exercise, a considerable amount of research has been conducted in an attempt to design the best regimen to elevate the muscle’s glycogen stores prior to competition and to determine the most effective means of rapidly replenishing the muscle glycogen stores after exercise. The rate-limiting step in glycogen synthesis is the transfer of glucose from uridine diphosphate-glucose to an amylose chain. This reaction is catalysed by the enzyme glycogen synthase which can exist in a glucose-6-phosphate-dependent, inactive form (D-form) and a glucose-6-phosphate-independent, active form (I-form). The conversion of glycogen synthase from one form to the other is controlled by phosphorylation-dephosphorylation reactions.

The muscle glycogen concentration can vary greatly depending on training status, exercise routines and diet. The pattern of muscle glycogen resynthesis following exercise-induced depletion is biphasic. Following the cessation of exercise and with adequate carbohydrate consumption, muscle glycogen is rapidly resynthesised to near pre-exercise levels within 24 hours. Muscle glycogen then increases very gradually to above-normal levels over the next few days. Contributing to the rapid phase of glycogen resynthesis is an increase in the percentage of glycogen synthase I, an increase in the muscle cell membrane permeability to glucose, and an increase in the muscle’s sensitivity to insulin. The slow phase of glycogen synthesis appears to be under the control of an intermediate form of glycogen synthase that is highly sensitive to glucose-6-phosphate activation. Conversion of the enzyme to this intermediate form may be due to the muscle tissue being constantly exposed to an elevated plasma insulin concentration subsequent to several days of high carbohydrate consumption.

For optimal training performance, muscle glycogen stores must be replenished on a daily basis. For the average endurance athlete, a daily carbohydrate consumption of 500 to 600g is required. This results in a maximum glycogen storage of 80 to 100 µmol/g wet weight. To glycogen supercompensate in preparation for competition, the muscle glycogen stores must first be exercise-depleted. This should then be followed with a natural training taper. During the first 3 days of tapering, a mixed diet composed of 40 to 50% carbohydate should be consumed. During the last 3 days of tapering, a diet consisting of 70 to 80% carbohydrate is consumed. This procedure results in muscle glycogen concentrations that are comparable to those produced by more rigorous regimens that can result in chronic fatigue and injury. For rapid resynthesis of muscle glycogen stores, a carbohydrate supplement in excess of 1 g/kg bodyweight should be consumed immediately after competition or after a training bout. Continuation of supplementation every 2 hours will maintain a maximal rate of storage up to 6 hours after exercise. Supplements composed of glucose or glucose polymers are more effective for the replenishment of muscle glycogen stores after exercise than supplements composed of predominantly fructose. However, some fructose is recommended because it is more effective than glucose in the replenishment of liver glycogen.

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Correspondence to John L. Ivy.

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Ivy, J.L. Muscle Glycogen Synthesis Before and After Exercise. Sports Med 11, 6–19 (1991). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199111010-00002

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Keywords

  • Glycogen Storage
  • Muscle Glycogen
  • Glycogen Synthesis
  • High Carbohydrate Diet
  • Glycogen Resynthesis