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J Spinal Cord Med. 2013 Sep;36(5):427-35. doi: 10.1179/2045772313Y.0000000123.

Heavy reliance on carbohydrate across a wide range of exercise intensities during voluntary arm ergometry in persons with paraplegia.

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  • 1University of Miami, Miami, FL, USA.



To describe and compare substrate oxidation and partitioning during voluntary arm ergometry in individuals with paraplegia and non-disabled individuals over a wide range of exercise intensities.


Cross-sectional study.


Clinical research facility.


Ten apparently healthy, sedentary men with paraplegia and seven healthy, non-disabled subjects.


Rest and continuous progressive voluntary arm ergometry between 30 and 80% of peak aerobic capacity (VO2peak).


Total energy expenditure and whole body rates of fat and carbohydrate oxidation.


A maximal whole body fat oxidation (WBFO) rate of 0.13 ± 0.07 g/minute was reached at 41 ± 9% VO2peak for subjects with paraplegia, although carbohydrate became the predominant fuel source during exercise exceeding an intensity of 30-40% VO2peak. Both the maximal WBFO rate (0.06 ± 0.04 g/minute) and the intensity at which it occurred (13 ± 3% VO2peak) were significantly lower for the non-disabled subjects than those with paraplegia.


Sedentary individuals with paraplegia are more capable of oxidizing fat during voluntary arm ergometry than non-disabled individuals perhaps due to local adaptations of upper body skeletal muscle used for daily locomotion. However, carbohydrate is the predominant fuel source oxidized across a wide range of intensities during voluntary arm ergometry in those with paraplegia, while WBFO is limited and maximally achieved at low exercise intensities compared to that achieved by able-bodied individuals during leg ergometry. These findings may partially explain the diminished rates of fat loss imposed by acute bouts of physical activity in those with paraplegia.

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