Local depletion of glycogen with supra-maximal exercise in human skeletal muscle fibres

Kasper Degn Gejl, Niels Ørtenblad, Erik Andersson, Peter Plomgaard, Hans-Christer Holmberg, Joachim Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Key points: Glycogen is stored in local spatially distinct compartments within skeletal muscle fibres and is the main energy source during supramaximal exercise. Using quantitative electron microscopy, we show that supramaximal exercise induces a differential depletion of glycogen from these compartments and also demonstrate how this varies with fibre types. Repeated exercise alters this compartmentalized glycogen depletion. The results obtained in the present study help us understand the muscle metabolic dynamics of whole body repeated supramaximal exercise, and suggest that the muscle has a compartmentalized local adaptation to repeated exercise, which affects glycogen depletion. Abstract: Skeletal muscle glycogen is heterogeneously distributed in three separated compartments (intramyofibrillar, intermyofibrillar and subsarcolemmal). Although only constituting 3–13% of the total glycogen volume, the availability of intramyofibrillar glycogen is of particular importance to muscle function. The present study aimed to investigate the depletion of these three subcellular glycogen compartments during repeated supramaximal exercise in elite athletes. Ten elite cross-country skiers (aged 25 ± 4 years, V O2max : 65 ± 4 ml kg −1  min −1 ; mean ± SD) performed four ∼4 min supramaximal sprint time trials (STT 1–4) with 45 min of recovery. The subcellular glycogen volumes in musculus triceps brachii were quantified from electron microscopy images before and after both STT 1 and 4. During STT 1, the depletion of intramyofibrillar glycogen was higher in type 1 fibres [−52%; (−89:−15%)] than type 2 fibres [−15% (−52:22%)] (P = 0.02), whereas the depletion of intermyofibrillar glycogen [main effect: −19% (−33:0%), P = 0.006] and subsarcolemmal glycogen [main effect: −35% (−66:0%), P = 0.03] was similar between fibre types. By contrast, only intermyofibrillar glycogen volume was significantly reduced during STT 4, in both fibre types [main effect: −31% (−50:−11%), P = 0.002]. Furthermore, for each of the subcellular compartments, the depletion of glycogen during STT 1 was associated with the volumes of glycogen before STT 1. In conclusion, the depletion of spatially distinct glycogen compartments differs during supramaximal exercise. Furthermore, the depletion changes with repeated exercise and is fibre type-dependent.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Physiology
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)2809–2821
Publication statusPublished - 1. May 2017


  • electron microscopy
  • exercise
  • glycogen
  • muscle fatigue
  • skeletal muscle
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Adult
  • Male
  • Glycogen/metabolism
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal/metabolism


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