Environmental oxygen is transported by the respiratory cascade to the site of oxidation in active tissues. Under conditions of heavy exercise it is ultimately the working skeletal muscle cells that determine the aerobic demand as over 90% of energy is spent in muscle cells. Oxygen is transported in the circulation bound to haemoglobin of erythrocytes while substrates are transported in the plasma. The supply of oxygen must be continuous because there are only minimal oxygen stores in the body of most mammalian species while substrates are stored in significant quantities both within muscle cells as also in organismic substrate stores. The pathways for oxygen and substrates ultimately converge in muscle mitochondria. In mammals, a structural limitation of carbohydrate and lipid transfer from the microvascular system to muscle cells is reached at a moderate work intensity (i.e. at less than 50% of VO2max). At higher work rates intracellular substrate stores must be used for oxidation. It is therefore not surprising to find larger intramyocellular carbohydrate and lipid stores in 'athletic' species as well as in endurance-trained human athletes. The transfer limitations for carbohydrates and lipids presumably occur on the level of the sarcolemma. These findings imply that the design of the respiratory cascade from lungs to muscle mitochondria has to be analysed with regard to satisfying the demand for oxygen of the working muscle cells. Substrate stores are replenished at low flux rates during periods of rest and are stored intracellularly. They are therefore locally available to mitochondria for aerobic work at high intensities.
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