Metabolic adaptations to maximal physical exercise in people with obesity (PwO) are scarcely described. This cross-sectional study evaluates the metabolic response to exercise via the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) in PwO and different degrees of glycemic control.
Eighty-five PwO (body mass index 46.0 [39.0–54.0] kg/m2), that is, 32 normoglycemic (Ob-N), 25 prediabetic (Ob-preDM), and 28 diabetic (Ob-T2DM) subjects and 18 healthy subjects performed an incremental, maximal cardiopulmonary exercise test. The RER was measured at rest (RERrest) and at peak exercise (RERpeak).
RERpeak was significantly higher in healthy subjects than that in PwO. Among those, RERpeak was significantly higher in Ob-N than that in Ob-preDM and Ob-T2DM (1.20 [1.15–1.27] vs. 1.18 [1.10–1.22] p = 0.04 and vs. 1.14 [1.10–1.18] p < 0.001, respectively). Accordingly, ΔRER (RERpeak-RERrest) was lower in Ob-preDM and Ob-T2DM than that in Ob-N (0.32 [0.26–0.39] p = 0.04 and 0.29 [0.24–0.36] p < 0.001 vs. 0.38 [0.32–0.43], respectively), while no significant difference was found in ΔRER between Ob-preDM and Ob-T2DM and not even between Ob-N and healthy subjects. Moreover, ΔRER in PwO correlated with glucose area under curve (p = 0.002).
PwO demonstrate restricted metabolic response during maximal exercise. Particularly, those with prediabetes already show metabolic inflexibility during exercise, similarly to those with type 2 diabetes. These findings also suggest a potential role of cardiopulmonary exercise testing in detecting early metabolic alterations in PwO.