Sports Medicine

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 405–422 | Cite as

Metabolic and Hormonal Responses to Exercise in Children and Adolescents

  • Nathalie BoisseauEmail author
  • Paul DelamarcheEmail author
Review Article


Ethical and methodological factors limit the availability of data on metabolic and hormonal responses to exercise in children and adolescents. Despite this, it has been reported that young individuals show age-dependent responses to short and long term exercise when compared with adults.

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and phosphocreatine stores are not age-dependent in children and adolescents. However, phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (31PNMR) studies showed smaller reductions in intramuscular pH in children and adolescents during high intensity exercise than adults. Muscle glycogen levels at rest are less important in children, but during adolescence these reach levels observed in adults.

Immaturity of anaerobic metabolism in children is a major consideration, and there are several possible reasons for this reduced glycolytic activity. There appear to be higher proportions of slow twitch (type I) fibres in the vastus lateralis part of the quadriceps in children than in untrained adults, and anaerobic glycolytic ATP rephosphorylation may be reduced in young individuals during high intensity exercise. Reduced activity of phosphofructokinase-1 and lactate dehydrogenase enzymes in prepubertal children could also explain the lower glycolytic capacity and the limited production of muscle lactate relative to adults. These observations may be related to reduced sympathetic responses to exhaustive resistance exercise in young people.

In contrast, children and adolescents are well adapted to prolonged exercise of moderate intensity. Growth and maturation induce increases in muscle mass, with proliferation of mitochondria and contractile proteins. However, substrate utilisation during exercise differs between children and adults, with metabolic and hormonal adaptations being suggested. Lower respiratory exchange ratio values are often observed in young individuals during prolonged moderate exercise. Data indicate that children rely more on fat oxidation than do adults, and increased free fatty acid mobilisation, glycerol release and growth hormone increases in preadolescent children support this hypothesis.

Plasma glucose responses during prolonged exercise are generally comparable in children and adults. When glucose is ingested at the beginning of moderate exercise, plasma glucose levels are higher in children than in adults, but this may be caused by decreased insulin sensitivity during the peripubertal period (as shown by glucose: insulin ratios).

Conclusions: Children are better adapted to aerobic exercise because their energy expenditure appears to rely more on oxidative metabolism than is the case in adults. Glycolytic activity is age-dependent, and the relative proportion of fat utilisation during prolonged exercise appears higher in children than in adults.


Growth Hormone Plasma Glucose Level Respiratory Exchange Ratio Prolonged Exercise Plasma Free Fatty Acid 
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© Adis International Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physiology and Muscular Exercise Biomechanics Laboratory, Faculty of SportsUniversity of RennesRennesFrance

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