Muscle amino acid metabolism at rest and during exercise: role in human physiology and metabolism.

A.J.M. Wagenmakers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, The Netherlands.

Six amino acids are metabolized in resting muscle. They are leucine, isoleucine, valine, asparagine, aspartate, and glutamate. These amino acids provide the amino groups and probably the ammonia required for synthesis of glutamine and alanine, which are released in excessive amounts in the postabsorptive state and during ingestion of a protein-containing meal. Only leucine and part of the isolecine molecule can be oxidized in muscle as they are converted to acetyl-CoA. The other carbon skeletons are used solely for de novo synthesis of TCA-cycle intermediates and glutamine. The carbon atoms of the released alanine originate primarily from glycolysis of blood glucose and from muscle glycogen (about half each in resting conditions). After consumption of a protein-containing meal, BCAA and glutamate are taken up by muscle and their carbon skeletons are used for de novo synthesis of glutamine. About half of the glutamine released from muscle originates from glutamate taken up from the blood, both after overnight starvation, after prolonged starvation, and after consumption of a mixed meal. Glutamine produced by muscle is an important fuel and regulator of DNA and RNA synthesis in mucosal cells and immune system cells, and fulfils several other important functions in human metabolism. The alanine aminotransferase reaction functions to establish and maintain high concentrations of TCA-cycle intermediates in muscle during the first 10 min of exercise. The increase in concentration of TCA-cycle intermediates probably is needed to increase the flux of the TCA-cycle and meet the increased energy demand of exercise. A gradual increase in leucine oxidation subsequently leads to a carbon drain on the TCA-cycle in glycogen-depleted muscles, and may thus reduce the maximal flux in the TCA-cycle and lead to fatigue. Deamination of amino acids and glutamine synthesis present alternative anaplerotic mechanisms in glycogen-depleted muscles, but only allow exercise at 40-50% of Wmax. One-leg exercise leads to the net breakdown of muscle protein. The liberated amino acids are used for synthesis of TCA-cycle intermediates and glutamine. Today, the importance of this process in endurance exercise in the field (running or cycling) in athletes who ingest carbohydrates is not clear. It is proposed that the maximal flux in the TCA-cycle is reduced in glycogen-depleted muscles due to insufficient TCA-cycle anaplerosis, and that this presents a limitation for the maximal rate of fatty acid oxidation. Interactions between the amino acid pool and the TCA-cycle are suggested to play a central role in the energy metabolism of the exercising muscle.

Publication Types:
Review, Academic
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-314
Number of pages28
JournalExercise and Sport Sciences Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1998

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