Dietary intake is independently associated with the maximal capacity for fat oxidation during exercise

Gareth Fletcher, Francis Eves, Elisa Glover, Scott Robinson, Carlijn Vernooij, Janice Thompson, Gareth Wallis

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Background: Substantial interindividual variability exists in the maximal rate of fat oxidation (MFO) during exercise with potential implications for metabolic health. Although the diet can affect the metabolic response to exercise, the contribution of a self-selected diet to the interindividual variability in the MFO requires further clarification.

Objective: We sought to identify whether recent, self-selected dietary intake independently predicts the MFO in healthy men and women.

Design: The MFO and maximal oxygen uptake (V̇O2 max) were determined with the use of indirect calorimetry in 305 healthy volunteers [150 men and 155 women; mean ± SD age: 25 ± 6 y; body mass index (BMI; in kg/m2): 23 ± 2]. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry was used to assess body composition with the self-reported physical activity level (SRPAL) and dietary intake determined in the 4 d before exercise testing. To minimize potential confounding with typically observed sex-related differences (e.g., body composition), predictor variables were mean-centered by sex. In the analyses, hierarchical multiple linear regressions were used to quantify each variable’s influence on the MFO.

Results: The mean absolute MFO was 0.55 ± 0.19 g/min (range: 0.19–1.13 g/min). A total of 44.4% of the interindividual variability in the MFO was explained by the V̇O2 max, sex, and SRPAL with dietary carbohydrate (carbohydrate; negative association with the MFO) and fat intake (positive association) associated with an additional 3.2% of the variance. When expressed relative to fat-free mass (FFM), the MFO was 10.8 ± 3.2 mg · kg FFM−1 · min−1 (range: 3.5–20.7 mg · kg FFM−1 · min−1) with 16.6% of the variability explained by the V̇O2 max, sex, and SRPAL; dietary carbohydrate and fat intakes together explained an additional 2.6% of the variability. Biological sex was an independent determinant of the MFO with women showing a higher MFO [men: 10.3 ± 3.1 mg · kg FFM−1 · min−1 (3.5–19.9 mg · kg FFM−1 · min−1); women: 11.2 ± 3.3 mg · kg FFM−1 · min−1 (4.6–20.7 mg · kg FFM−1 · min−1); P < 0.05].

Conclusion: Considered alongside other robust determinants, dietary carbohydrate and fat intake make modest but independent contributions to the interindividual variability in the capacity to oxidize fat during exercise. This trial was registered at as NCT02070055.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)864–872
Number of pages9
JournalThe American journal of clinical nutrition
Issue number4
Early online date1 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


  • health
  • metabolism
  • nutrition
  • physical activity
  • substrate oxidation


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