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Effects of aerobic fitness on fat oxidation and body fatness


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2000 - Volume 32 - Issue 4 - pp 805-811

KRIKETOS, A. D., T. A. SHARP, H. M. SEAGLE, J. C. PETERS, and J. O. HILL. Effects of aerobic fitness on fat oxidation and body fatness. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 805–811, 2000.

Objective: This study investigated the contributions of physical fitness and body composition to 24-h fat oxidation in adults under sedentary conditions in a whole-room calorimeter.

Methods: The following measurements were studied in 109 adults (49 male/45 female) at least 36 h after a bout of exercise: 1) aerobic fitness level assessed by V̇O2max, 2) body composition determined by underwater weighing, 3) resting metabolic rate (RMR) after an overnight fast, and 4) 24-h energy expenditure (EE) and substrate oxidation determined in a whole-room calorimeter. While in the calorimeter, subjects were provided with a diet (15% protein, 30% fat, and 55% carbohydrate) estimated to produce energy balance on a sedentary day and of similar nutritional composition to their daily dietary intake.

Results: We found strong negative correlations between V̇O2max and % body fat in both male and female subjects, but no relationship between V̇O2max and 24-h EE under the sedentary conditions of this study. In male subjects, V̇O2max (mL O2·kg−1 fat-free mass·min−1) was negatively related to fat oxidation (r = −0.397, P < 0.005), and fat oxidation was more closely related to fat mass (r = 0.434, P < 0.0002) than to fat-free mass (r = 0.165, NS). In contrast, none of these relationships were significant in females.

Conclusion: The results show that in male subjects under sedentary conditions, 24-h fat oxidation is positively related to body fat mass and negatively related to V̇O2max (the marker used here for level of physical fitness). This supports our hypothesis that regularly active males maintain lower body fat stores as the low contribution to daily fat oxidation from a lower body fat mass is counterbalanced by the high contribution to fat oxidation from daily physical activity. The lack of a relationship between V̇O2max and 24-h EE under the sedentary conditions of this study suggests that the major effects of physical activity on total daily EE and fat oxidation may occur during and relatively quickly after an exercise bout. Further, these data also suggest that cessation of regular exercise will likely be associated with a high risk of positive fat balance and weight gain.

Body weight maintenance involves a balance between energy intake and energy expenditure (EE), and also requires a similar balance between intake and oxidation for protein, carbohydrate, and fat (2,5,6,11). Daily EE can be increased through regular physical activity (10, 14), and physically active individuals remain weight stable by matching the greater EE with higher energy intake. Individuals who undertake regular physical activity are generally leaner than their sedentary counterparts (15); however, the specific mechanism involved in the contribution of physical activity to promote leanness is not completely understood.

Several investigators have suggested that a major benefit of a high physical fitness level is a high rate of fat oxidation, both at rest (20,25) and during exercise (9,13). However, others have found that fat oxidation at rest (22) and 24-h fat oxidation (1) is related to fat mass, so that physically active individuals with low body fat mass might be expected to have low levels of fat oxidation. Obviously, both points of view cannot be true. Our hypothesis is that daily fat oxidation is regulated by both fat mass and physical activity. In other words, more physically active individuals may show a low fat oxidation in the absence of physical activity (i.e., under sedentary conditions) and a high fat oxidation during exercise. In this study, we determined 24-h EE and fat oxidation in variably trained subjects on a sedentary day in order to examine the relationship between fat oxidation and fat mass.

Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO 80262

Submitted for publication November 1998.

Accepted for publication June 1999.

Address for correspondence: Dr. James O. Hill, Center for Human Nutrition, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO 80262. E-mail:

©2000The American College of Sports Medicine