High Levels of Total Energy Expenditure in Ultra-Endurance Athletes: Is There Evidence for Constraint?

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Virginia Tech


The benefits of an active lifestyle are undisputed, yet our understanding of the contribution of physical activity (PA) to the daily energy budget is limited. The prevailing model of a linear relationship between PA and total energy expenditure (TEE) has been challenged by models that predict an upper limit of TEE (constrained) or a compensatory decrease elsewhere in the budget in response to increased PA (compensated). The purpose of this study was to determine the equation of best fit between PA and TEE using linear and non-linear modeling in the light of existing models. Secondarily, we sought to explore relationships between PA and postulated means of behavioral (time sedentary) and physiologic (i.e. Immune, reproductive) compensation. We measured TEE in 57 healthy weight stable adults (18 to 58 yrs., F = 28) who ranged from being sedentary to ultra-endurance trained runners (0 to 78 mi/wk.) using the doubly labeled water technique and PA and sedentary time using a waist mounted triaxial accelerometer during the same 14-day period. We obtained fasting serum (albumin, cortisol, TNFα, C-reactive protein, free testosterone, TSH and T3), plasma (leptin) and whole blood (WBC with differential) concentrations. Using linear and non-linear modeling, we observed a positive linear relationship between PA (Vector Magnitude Counts per Minute ) and TEE (R2=0.313, Y = 1.427X + 1930 and adjusted for fat free mass (FFM) R2=0.363, Y = 1.151X + 2155). We identified no association between PA and RMR ( R2=0.015 and adjusted for FFM R2=0.010). In addition, we observed an association between higher PA and lower % time sedentary (R2=0.723). Although inconsistent, there was a general trend for higher PA but not TEE or its components to be associated with lower immune and reproductive biomarkers. These findings support a conventional linear model though intervention studies will be needed to further address this issue.



Physical Activity, Energy Expenditure, Metabolic Scope, Energy Budget Total Energy Expenditure, Doubly Labeled Water