Under the Hood: Skeletal Muscle Determinants of Endurance Performance

Stephan van der Zwaard*, Franck Brocherie, Richard T. Jaspers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


In the past decades, researchers have extensively studied (elite) athletes' physiological responses to understand how to maximize their endurance performance. In endurance sports, whole-body measurements such as the maximal oxygen consumption, lactate threshold, and efficiency/economy play a key role in performance. Although these determinants are known to interact, it has also been demonstrated that athletes rarely excel in all three. The leading question is how athletes reach exceptional values in one or all of these determinants to optimize their endurance performance, and how such performance can be explained by (combinations of) underlying physiological determinants. In this review, we advance on Joyner and Coyle's conceptual framework of endurance performance, by integrating a meta-analysis of the interrelationships, and corresponding effect sizes between endurance performance and its key physiological determinants at the macroscopic (whole-body) and the microscopic level (muscle tissue, i.e., muscle fiber oxidative capacity, oxygen supply, muscle fiber size, and fiber type). Moreover, we discuss how these physiological determinants can be improved by training and what potential physiological challenges endurance athletes may face when trying to maximize their performance. This review highlights that integrative assessment of skeletal muscle determinants points toward efficient type-I fibers with a high mitochondrial oxidative capacity and strongly encourages well-adjusted capillarization and myoglobin concentrations to accommodate the required oxygen flux during endurance performance, especially in large muscle fibers. Optimisation of endurance performance requires careful design of training interventions that fine tune modulation of exercise intensity, frequency and duration, and particularly periodisation with respect to the skeletal muscle determinants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number719434
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Sports and Active Living
Issue numberAugust
Early online date4 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 van der Zwaard, Brocherie and Jaspers.


  • aerobic performance
  • hypertrophy
  • metabolism
  • mitochondria
  • muscle fiber type
  • oxygen transport
  • training
  • V̇O


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