Numerous studies have reported a strong correlation between intramuscular triacylglycerol (IMTG) content and insulin resistance. However, the proposed relationship between IMTG accumulation and skeletal muscle insulin resistance is not unambiguous, as trained athletes have been shown to be markedly insulin sensitive despite an elevated IMTG storage. Though the latter has often been attributed to differences in muscle fibre type composition and/or structural characteristics of the intramyocellular lipid deposits, recent studies have failed to provide such evidence. The greater insulin sensitivity despite an elevated IMTG deposition in the endurance-trained state has often been described as a metabolic paradox. However, divergent metabolic events are responsible for the greater IMTG content in the endurance-trained versus insulin-resistant states. The greater IMTG storage in the trained athlete represents an adaptive response to endurance training, allowing a greater contribution of the IMTG pool as a substrate source during exercise. In contrast, elevated IMTG stores in the obese and/or type 2 diabetes patient seem to be secondary to a structural imbalance between plasma free fatty acid availability, fatty acid (FA) storage and oxidation. Therefore, the reported correlation between IMTG content and insulin resistance does not represent a functional relationship, as it is strongly influenced by training status and/or habitual physical activity. It can be argued that the ratio between IMTG content and muscle oxidative capacity represents a more accurate marker of insulin resistance. Interventions to augment mitochondrial density and/or function are likely to improve the balance between FA uptake and oxidation and should be applied to prevent and/or treat insulin resistance.
van Loon, L. J., & Goodpaster, B. H. (2006). Increased intramuscular lipid storage in the insulin-resistant and endurance-trained state. Pflugers Archiv-European Journal of Physiology, 451(5), 606-616. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00424-005-1509-0