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J Physiol. 2004 Apr 1;556(Pt 1):305-13. Epub 2004 Jan 23.

Fuel selection during intense shivering in humans: EMG pattern reflects carbohydrate oxidation.

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Biology Department, University of Ottawa, 30 Marie Curie, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 6N5.


The thermogenic response of humans depends critically on the coordination of muscle fibre recruitment and oxidative fuel metabolism. The primary goal of this study was to determine whether the electromyographic (EMG) pattern of muscle recruitment could provide metabolic information on oxidative fuel selection during high-intensity shivering. EMG activity (of 8 large muscles) and fuel metabolism were monitored simultaneously in non-acclimatized adult men during high-intensity shivering. Even though acute cold exposure elicited similar changes in metabolic rate among subjects, lipid and carbohydrate use was very different. Depending on the subject, the cold-induced increase in carbohydrate (CHO) oxidation ranged between 2- and 8-fold, with CHO accounting for 33-78% of total heat production, and lipids for 14-60%. This high variability in fuel selection was primarily explained by differences in 'burst shivering' rate, indicating that the recruitment of type II fibres plays a key role in orchestrating fuel selection. This study is the first to show that the pattern of muscle recruitment can provide quantitative information on energy metabolism. Future work should focus on the study of shivering bursts that may provide essential clues on what limits human survival in the cold.

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