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Protein Metabolism and Endurance Exercise

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Prolonged endurance exercise stimulates whole-body protein turnover (synthesis and degradation) but it remains contentious whether this translates into an increased net protein oxidation or dietary requirement for protein. Skeletal muscle is the major energy consumer during exercise and the oxidation of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) is increased several-fold, suggesting an increased requirement for fuel. Increased BCAA oxidation has been proposed to impair aerobic energy provision during prolonged exercise, but there is little evidence to support this theory. Endurance training blunts the acute exercise-induced increase in whole-body protein turnover and skeletal BCAA oxidation at a given work intensity. However, training also increases the maximal capacity for skeletal muscle BCAA oxidation, as evidenced by a higher maximal activity of the rate-determining enzyme branched-chain oxo acid dehydrogenase. Exercise-induced changes in protein metabolism are affected by nutritional status, with high carbohydrate availability (as typically practiced by endurance athletes) generally associated with reduced net protein utilisation. Ingestion of protein with carbohydrate improves net protein balance during exercise and recovery compared with carbohydrate alone, but it remains to be determined whether this practice facilitates the adaptive response to chronic training.

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Martin J. Gibala is member of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute Science Advisory Board. Work cited from the author’s laboratory was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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Correspondence to Martin J. Gibala.

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Gibala, M.J. Protein Metabolism and Endurance Exercise. Sports Med 37, 337–340 (2007).

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