Knowledge on metabolites distinguishing the metabolic response to acute physical
exercise between fit and less fit individuals could clarify mechanisms and metabolic pathways contributing to the beneficial adaptations to exercise. By analyzing data from the cross-sectional KarMeN (Karlsruhe Metabolomics and Nutrition) study, we characterized the acute effects of a
standardized exercise tolerance test on urinary metabolites of 255 healthy women and men. In a second step, we aimed to detect a urinary metabolite pattern associated with the cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), which was determined by measuring the peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) during incremental exercise. Spot urine samples were collected pre- and post-exercise and 47 urinary metabolites were identified by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. While the
univariate analysis of pre-to-post-exercise differences revealed significant alterations in 37 urinary metabolites, principal component analysis (PCA) did not show a clear separation of the pre- and post-exercise urine samples. Moreover, both bivariate correlation and multiple linear regression analyses revealed only weak relationships between the VO2peak and single urinary metabolites or
urinary metabolic pattern, when adjusting for covariates like age, sex, menopausal status, and lean body mass (LBM). Taken as a whole, our results show that several urinary metabolites (e.g., lactate, pyruvate, alanine, and acetate) reflect acute exercise-induced alterations in the human metabolism.
However, as neither pre- and post-exercise levels nor the fold changes of urinary metabolites substantially accounted for the variation of the covariate-adjusted VO2peak, our results furthermore indicate that the urinary metabolites identified in this study do not allow to draw conclusions on the individual’s physical fitness status. Studies investigating the relationship between the human metabolome and functional variables like the CRF should adjust for confounders like age, sex, menopausal status, and LBM.