1. Heats of combustion and energy equivalents of cytoplasmic ATP have been estimated for glucose, 101 food proteins and 116 food fats based on amino acid and fatty acid composition data from food composition tables and the heats of combustion and energy equivalents of cytoplasmic ATP of each individual amino acid, fatty acid, glycerol and glucose. The isodynamic equivalents of carbohydrate, fat and protein at the biochemical level have been investigated.
2. Heats of combustion of food proteins and fats derived from compositional data were within 1 % of published values obtained by calorimetry.
3. Cytoplasmic ATP equivalents for glucose, fat and protein range from 9·0 to 14·7, 8·6 to 14·6 and 6·4 to 13·2 mol cytoplasmic ATP/MJ of metabolizable energy respectively, depending on the choice of mitochondrial proton stoichiometries for these estimations. The range is extended further when considering the level and type of mitochondrial ‘uncoupling’.
4. Isobioenergetic relationships between the efficiencies of glucose (G) and fat (F) (F = 1·05 G-0·9) and glucose and protein (P) (P = G(1·02–0·19f)-(1.8+0·5f)) energy conversions (wheref is the fraction of protein oxidized via gluconeogenesis) were obtained and were essentially independent of the choice of mitochondrial proton stoichiometry and the level and type of uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation.
5. Potential errors in previous estimates of ATP yield from protein are shown to be as much as -17·6 to < 118%; accounting for the efficiency of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation narrows this to between -7·9 and 17·4% and accounting for the fraction of protein oxidized via gluconeogenesis limits this further to between - 7·9 and 11·1%. Remaining uncertainty is attributed mostly to lack of knowledge about the energy cost of substrate absorption from the gut and transport across cell membranes.
6. Coefficients of variation (cv) in the cytoplasmic ATP yield/g protein and /g protein nitrogen for the 101 food proteins were large (0·033 and 0·058 respectively). This is attributed mostly to variation in the metabolizable heats of combustion (cv 0·033 and 0·053 respectively) and to a much smaller extent in the efficiency with which cytoplasmic ATP equivalents are generated/MJ of metabolizable energy (cv 0·01).
7. It is concluded that the current understanding of biochemical energy transduction is sufficient to permit only a crude estimate of the energy equivalents of cytoplasmic ATP but that these equivalents vary by less than 5% between both different food proteins and different food fats. Isobioenergetic equivalents for carbohydrates, fats and protein which could be applied to modify the Atwater conversion factors are possible but require first an accurate quantification of the energy equivalent of cytoplasmic ATP for glucose in vivo, and an indication that oxidative phosphorylation is similarly efficient in different individuals.