Energy substrates that are important to the working muscle at moderate intensities are the non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs) taken up from the circulation and NEFAs originating from lipolysis of the intramuscular triacylglycerol (IMTAG). Moreover, NEFA from lipolysis via lipoprotein lipase (LPL) in the muscle of the very-low-density lipoproteins and in the (semi) post-prandial state chylomicrons may also contribute. In this review, the NEFA fluxes and oxidation by skeletal muscle during prolonged moderate-intensity exercise are described in terms of the integration of physiological systems. Steps involved in the regulation of the active muscle NEFA uptake include (1) increased energy demand; (2) delivery of NEFA to the muscle; (3) transport of NEFA into the muscle by NEFA transporters; and (4) activation of the NEFAs and either oxidation or re-esterification into IMTAG. The increased metabolic demand of the exercising muscle is the main driving force for all physiological regulatory processes. It elicits functional hyperemia, increasing the recruitment of capillaries and muscle blood flow resulting in increased NEFA delivery and accessibility to NEFA transporters and LPL. It also releases epinephrine that augments adipose tissue NEFA release and thereby NEFA delivery to the active muscle. Moreover, NEFA transporters translocate to the plasma membrane, further increasing the NEFA uptake. The majority of the NEFAs taken up by the active muscle is oxidized and a minor portion is re-esterified to IMTAG. Net IMTAG lipolysis occurs; however, the IMTAG contribution to total fat oxidation is rather limited compared to plasma-derived NEFA oxidation, suggesting a complex role and regulation of IMTAG utilization.
Sports Med. 45(Suppl 1):23-32.