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A synopsis of study about whether glycogen can be stored as fat

Hi all!

There has been much discussion here on whether glycogen can be stored as fat. Curious, I decided to do some research, and I just finished reading this research study on how glycogen is stored as fat.

You can read the study yourselves at the link provided below. But if you’re not inclined, I wrote my own description of the study (very basic description indeed, there is a lot of information unrelated to our question that I didn’t include), and then I followed up with some of the relevant points afterward.  I wrote salient points in bold in case you don't have time to read every sentence. 


For those of you who aren't inclined to read any further, here's the bottom line: Glycogen CAN be converted to fat, but it has to jump through a lot of interesting hoops to get there.  


But please try to read the original study for yourselves, just in case I misread or omitted something. It is not my intention to mislead anyone at all! 

Is this the absolute end of this discussion? I doubt it, since this is only one study. But what I found is that is proves everyone right, more or less! LOL

Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man 

Kevin JAcheson, PhD; Yves Schutz, PhD; Thierry Bessard, MD; Krishna Anantharaman, PhD; 

Jean-Pierre Flail, PhD; and Eric Jaquier, MD 

Accessed at: http://www.ajcn.org/content/48/2/240.full.pdf.

A very simple description of the study:

The experiment lasted for 14 day and involved three men all of similar athletic ability and physique. During the first three days, the subjects glycogen stores were depleted to near zero; then from days 4 through 12 (9 days in all), the subjects were overfed on a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. Approximately 3600 extra carbohydrate calories per day were needed to produce an overfeeding condition. Subjects also exercised twice a day (30 mins each time) and they could do additional exercise, but they were not allowed to do any anything strenuous (other than the two assigned workouts). It took approximately 4 days for the subjects’ glycogen stores to be filled, but it was after day 2 that glycogen began converting to fat (this was once their glycogen storage sites had reached a minimum level of 500 grams of glycogen). By the end of the overfeeding period (9 days), the three subjects gained on average 4.6 kg. Of that it was calculated that 2.84 kilos was water weight (glycogen requires 2-4 times the amount of water for storage), 665 grams (about 1.5 lbs) was muscle growth, and the remaining 1.1 kilos was fat. Subjects weights returned to their beginning weights two days after the overfeeding period.


Definition: de novo lipogenesis: conversion of glycogen to fat

Here are some of the interesting findings of this study.

1. When overeating on carbs the first thing that is done with the excess glycogen is to fill glycogen storage sites in the muscles and liver


2. According to the discussion provided in this research, it is pretty hard to fill all glycogen storage sites and then to maintain them. This study showed that muscles can store 800-900 grams of glycogen before becoming saturated. Extremely fit people can store 1 to 1.1 kilos of glycogen. The storage cites have to fill by at least 500 grams before fat synthesis can begin.


3. This study also showed that it is very difficult to maintain a saturated state of the muscles, since the glycogen is constantly being used, and presumably because the average person won’t eat sufficiently of carbs to ever get to saturation. Too, there is our fitness level, which determines how effectively we can fill and maintain our glycogen stores. 


4. Interestingly, the subjects in the study spontaneously burned more calories during the 9 days of over-feeding, too; so the scientists had to keep increasing calories to maintain an over-feeding state. On average, test subjects spontaneously burned an extra 840 calories per day, or 35% more calories, during the overfeeding period, presumably due to thermic effect (thermogenesis).Yes, you read that right: A high-carbohydrate diet causes the body to spontaneously burn more calories~up to 35% more calories than a high-fat or high-protein diet.


5. Only once the glycogen stores are filled to at least 500 gram capacity is the remaining glycogen able to be converted to fat. The body is capable of converting up to 500 grams of glycogen to fat per day. 


6. But de novo lipogenesis (glycogen to fat storage) doesn’t produce an equivalent amount of fat. That is 1 kg of glycogen doesn’t convert to 1 kg of fat. It converts to much less fat than that.  Since it takes about 25% of the glycogen calories to convert it to fat, only some 75% of glycogen excess makes it into fat.


7. Bottom line: Yes, glycogen can be converted to fat (de novo lipogenesis), but it takes a lot of excess for this to occur.


I would love to hear your responses to this study!  .........ana xoxo

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Well, these guys did gain fat when overeating on a high-carb diet~on average 1.1 kilos (over 2 pounds) in 9 days... But they did this by eating some 3600 calories or more everyday over their caloric output. They also gained about 1.5 pounds of muscle and a couple pounds of water. So, I'm interpreting this as lending some credence that it is possible to gain fat (get fat? is that the same thing? lol) by over-eating? What are your thoughts, Peter?

Gotcha, Peter. Thanks!  

So, does that mean if you go over 10% of your calories in fat, say 15% the extra 5% will be stored as fat? 

From what I gather from this study, yes.

Wow! Very interesting! So the 500 grams of glycogen doesn't translate to 500 grams of carbs though, correct? Sorry if that's a stupid question, science definitely is NOT my strong subject! Thanks for posting this.

ACtually, that's a good question. I have assumed this to be correct. Maybe someone can tell us for sure?

Carbs & glycogen should be more less the same as glycogen is glucose molecules stacked together. so 500g of glycogen/stored glucose = 2000 kcal, 1 gram of carbs give ~4kcal.

So you have to eat an extra 36 large bananas or 2lbs of dates ON TOP of what you would normally eat and walk an hour around the shopping mall.

Not even I could do that lol!

So basically its like saying 'if you ride your bike on the moon you WILL get dizzy...'.

Reality is that fit people can store glycogen WAY more efficiently than sedentary people so the odds of a sedentary person filling their glycogen is pretty minimal. The chance that a sedentary person gets fat on fruit is zero. The chance a fat person gets fat on fruit is zero.

Here is a photo of me this morning. 10th July 2012. OVER 11 years overeating carbs EVERY meal. Ive had some injuries from boxing over the last few months so Ive actually lost fitness from having to train at 5-10% of my normal training volume. Appetite on this low sodium no msg etc lifestyle naturally goes down when physical effort goes down. The last few months Ive been eating for the internet mainly. Eating enough cals to reply to emails and make youtube vids. Ive received 2 lawsuits in the last 2 days but Im so used to them that they don't take any extra cals to deal with. 

My youtube journey reflects most peoples health & fitness journey. Many give up years before the results arrive. Many quit at the first sign of decline. Many get scared of the attention success brings. Smart people want it yesterday. Wise people understand good things take years, even decades.


Reality is that fit people can store glycogen WAY more efficiently than sedentary people so the odds of a sedentary person filling their glycogen is pretty minimal. The chance that a sedentary person gets fat on fruit is zero. The chance a fat person gets fat on fruit is zero.


That's how I interpreted that too, Harley. In another study, it addressed this very topic, and commented that it would be the fit people who would most likely get fat on carbs before the unfit people, for the very reason that fit people's bodies are so much more efficient! lol

And-get this, Harley-yet another study showed that obese women actually burn more calories than women of normal weight, because their muscles have to carry a heavier load. Thus, they should be able to burn more calories than a normal weighted woman. This study was about metabolism. Originally, the researchers' goal was to study slow metabolisms, but they couldn't find a single person who had a slow metabolism. They ended up asserting that there is no such thing as a physiologically slow metabolism; people couldn't control their weight simply because they didn't move enough.

Cheers! ....ana xoxo

'Ive received 2 lawsuits in the last 2 days but Im so used to them that they don't take any extra cals to deal with.'


Harley, you're different class!

All the best, Peter

My bottom line take home message is: Can glycogen get stored as fat? Yes. Can you get fat from those excess carbs? NO FRICKEN WAY! lol!

Its a bit like you can get wind burn and get sore skin but NO WAY are you going to catch on fire! It might feel like it, people might tell you but its physically impossible.

Does anyone know of any physical living examples of either? Exactly. My email is veganbobster@gmail.com if anyone can show me. Please, no Karen Knowler jokes.

Yeah, Michael. Their output was monitored in an oxygen chamber and they were deliberately overfed calories in excess of usage~if I remember correctly 3600 calories or more per day. Your math is correct.

The were allowed to exercise, but not to extreme. 



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