Insulin resistance is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and exercise can improve insulin sensitivity. However, following exercise, high circulating fatty acid (FA) levels might counteract this. We hypothesized that such inhibition would be reduced by forcibly increasing carbohydrate oxidation through pharmacological activation of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC). Insulin-stimulated glucose uptake was examined with a crossover design in healthy young men (n = 8) in a previously exercised and a rested leg during a hyperinsulinemic-euglycemic clamp 5 h after one-legged exercise with 1) infusion of saline, 2) infusion of intralipid imitating circulating FA levels during recovery from whole-body exercise, and 3) infusion of intralipid + oral PDC activator, dichloroacetate (DCA). Intralipid infusion reduced insulin-stimulated glucose uptake by 19% in the previously exercised leg, which was not observed in the contralateral rested leg. Interestingly, this effect of intralipid in the exercised leg was abolished by DCA, which increased muscle PDC activity (130%) and flux (acetylcarnitine 130%) and decreased inhibitory phosphorylation of PDC on Ser293 (∼40%) and Ser300 (∼80%). Novel insight is provided into the regulatory interaction between glucose and lipid metabolism during exercise recovery. Coupling exercise and PDC flux activation upregulated the capacity for both glucose transport (exercise) and oxidation (DCA), which seems necessary to fully stimulate insulin-stimulated glucose uptake during recovery.

Article Highlights
  • Increased muscle insulin sensitivity following one-legged exercise is reduced by circulating fatty acid levels mimicking those observed in recovery from whole-body exercise.

  • The fatty acid–induced inhibition of postexercise insulin action in muscle is alleviated by pharmacologically increasing PDC activation and flux to forcibly increase carbohydrate oxidation.

  • Lipid infusion leading to fatty acid levels in the physiological range does not cause muscle insulin resistance in a rested leg.

  • Muscle glucose uptake is linked to PDC activation state and flux during recovery from exercise in the presence of elevated plasma lipid availability.

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