The Three Energy Systems

The Three Energy Systems

The Three Energy Systems
The Three Energy Systems

The Three Energy Systems

The first way the body gets ATP is through the phosphagen system, also known as the ATP-CP system, which uses the ATP stored in the muscles to supply that energy. The body can store enough ATP at any one time to allow for around 3 seconds of full powered exertion (a little more or a little less depending on your physical fitness and various other factors), at which point it will need to look elsewhere.

Fortunately breaking the ATP molecules results in some useful bi products – ADP (andenosinediphosphate) and AMP (andenosine monophosphate) with two and one bonded phosphagen molecules respectively. So if you imagine you have three bonded molecules and they break you will understandably be left with a one and a two, or three single molecules. It’s basic maths… The good news is that using a substance called creatine phosphate (hence the CP!) can then recombine these molecules to make them back into ATP ready to be broken once more for extra energy. The body can store enough creatine for roughly 8-10 seconds of continued exertion, meaning that in total the body can use the phosphagen system for around 13 seconds maximum of continued exertion.That is enough to sprint just over 100 metres. It is thought however that through the use of creatine supplements that this maximum time can be increased marginally.

At this point if exertion continues the body needs to get its ATP from somewhere else and this is when it looks to its stored carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. This represents the shift to what is known as the ‘glycogen lactic acid system’.

This system is a slightly slower and less efficient means of supplying energy, which requires the body to split the glycogen first into glucose and then again into ATP. This unfortunately creates a number of unwanted by-products called metabolites including lactic acid (from which the substance takes its name).This metabolic build-up creates the uncomfortable, mildly painful ‘burning’ sensation we get in our muscles when we push ourselves in the gym. The body can sustain itself using the glycogen lactic acid system for a further one minute and thirty seconds until this build up becomes too much to tolerate. If we continue to try and push ourselves at MHR past this point, it can lead to nausea and even fainting.

It was long believed that lactic acid was actually responsible for this failure and for the burning sensation. However, more recent research has shown us that lactate is not harmful in itself but rather seems to correlate with other factors that fatigue the glycogen lactic acid system. Thus high level athletes can still monitor their build-up of lactate in the blood in order to calculate a ‘lactate inflection point’. With training, it is possible to improve tolerance to metabolites and thus sustain maximum exertion for longer.

Guess what you can use to improve this aspect of your fitness? HIIT!

Both these systems are anaerobic, meaning that for the first one minute and forty-three seconds the body won’t be using oxygen or burning fat.

In order to lose weight then the training must continue past this point and force the body to find its energy elsewhere. This is where the aerobic system comes in, relying on the oxidisation of foodstuffs in our mitochondria. In other words, the body looks to our supplies of glycogen (and so ATP) stored in our cells as fat and then uses the oxygen in our blood to break them down and carry them to our muscles. This is then what leads to fat being burned directly. This forces us to breathe more heavily in order to supply the necessary amount of oxygen and it increase our heartrate further to transport the oxygen to the fat stores and then to bring the energy to our muscles and brain.

The aerobic energy system can actually be used indefinitely and will continue until you completely exhaust all supplies of energy located around the body. During a typical prolonged endurance test, you will find you also breakdown protein for energy and even muscle. This in contrast to high intensity exercises that will use 100% carbohydrates for fuel, purely because they provide the quickest and most accessible source of ATP.

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Why Does Exercise Feel Bad?

Why Does Exercise Feel Bad?

Exercise
Exercise

Why Does Exercise Feel Bad?

A lot of people will try and tell you that exercise will feel really good. Normally these are people with something to sell but they can also include friends and colleagues who seem to have an unhealthy love of exercise and want to recommend it to everyone that they meet.

The rest of us know different. When you first start trying to exercise on a regular basis it is far from fun. Sure, there might be some ‘runners’ high’ effect, but most of us have never lasted long enough to encounter it. Instead, we get the feeling of sickness, the ‘burn’, muscle cramp and more.

Why does this happen?

The Burn

Let’s look at the ‘burn’ sensation first. Often you will hear bodybuilders talking about this sensation as though it were magical and highly desirable. Some even go as far as to say it’s highly pleasurable (*cough* Arnie *cough*). Whether or not that is true is somewhat debatable but where exactly does it come from?

Specifically, the burn is caused by the build-up of metabolites in the muscles. This is partly the result of blood and oxygen being pumped into the muscles to provide fuel and nutrients. The more you use your muscle, the more this build-up occurs. Simultaneously, the contraction of the muscle also ‘traps’ the blood in that area, causing it to pool.

Meanwhile, by-products are created as a result of the glycogen lactic acid system. All this can eventually result in a painful sensation that some people believe is a key indicator that you have done enough to trigger growth.

Sickness

The other thing you’ll notice and particularly when taking part in cardio workouts (HIIT even moreso) is that you start to feel somewhat sick. This is again due to the build-up of metabolites and lactate, this time in the bloodstream.

It is thought that the body responds to this increased lactate by feeling sick and that this might even be a signal that the body uses to force you to reduce the intensity of your workouts. Lactate is only really created during very intensive training sessions and as such, it is most likely to occur when you push yourself. Eventually this leads to the ‘lactate inflection point’ which is the most lactate you can manage in your bloodstream. When that happens, you’re ready to slow down and return to an aerobic state.

DOMS

DOMS stands for ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ and is the pain you get the next day following intense training. Again, there is some debate over what precisely causes DOMS but it’s generally agreed that it has to do with ‘microtears in the muscle’. That is to say that making small tears in the muscle fiber not only trigger subsequent repair and thus growth but also cause discomfort as essentially these are very minor injuries!

Regular Old Pain…

And of course workouts can also just hurt. When you’re curling weights, you’ll find that you rub the skin on your hands painfully. When you’re jogging, you’ll jolt your joints and also your feet inside your shoes…

Training hurts… But the more you do it, the less it will start to hurt!

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Tips To Improve Your Emotional And Mental State When Living With Chronic Pain

Tips To Improve Your Emotional And Mental State When Living With Chronic Pain

Improve Your Emotional And Mental State
Improve Your Emotional And Mental State

Improve Your Emotional And Mental State

Dealing with chronic pain can exact a toll on your emotional and mental state of being. You may be constantly stressed by your pain and may even suffer from depression because the pain is affecting all areas of your life and your ability to do the normal activities of daily living.

There are ways to improve your emotional and mental state when you are living with chronic pain. Here are some tips that may help you:

  • Use a heating blanket. Chronic pain is often made worse when you are exposed to the cold. If you snuggle under a heating blanket, especially with a good book, you can lift your spirits and improve your emotional state. When you are more comfortable, you think less of your chronic pain and can feel emotionally better.
  • Have a massage. Make sure the massage therapist knows you are dealing with chronic pain and ask them to give you a gentle massage. Massages are known to reduce pain and decrease stress levels. When you are more comfortable and have been properly pampered, you will feel better physically and emotionally.
  • Practice yoga. Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that is good for people who have chronic pain just as much as it is good for people who do not have chronic pain. Choose a style of yoga, such as Hatha yoga, that is gentle on your joints and the rest of your body. The practice of yoga will relax you and will make you feel better on a physical and emotional level.
  • Positive affirmations. Use positive affirmations to reprogram your mind towards a positive mindset. Affirmations can help you accept your life as it is and this means more peace of mind and a better quality of life.
  • Practice qi gong. This is another ancient form of exercise brought to the West from ancient China. Initially a form of martial arts, it is a good form of exercise for people who have chronic pain. It involves smooth, fluid movements and is simple enough that anyone can learn it and it can even be practiced by those who cannot even get out of bed because of their pain. It is known to reduce stress and improve emotional health.
  • Attend a support group. Many large hospitals and HMOs have support groups for people who have chronic pain and other maladies. When you can share your story of chronic pain with others and get support around dealing with chronic pain, you feel better and you know that you are not alone in your struggle with pain.
  • Practice meditation. Mediation requires no physical activity at all and can be done sitting up or lying down. While focusing on relaxing your muscles and controlling your breath, your stress level goes way down and you feel more relaxed. This results in less thought about your chronic pain and more inner peace. The best part about mediation is that anyone can learn it and it can be done just about anywhere.
  • See a therapist or counselor. When you are dealing with chronic pain, it often causes depression and anxiety. These things can easily be managed when you find a compassionate therapist who can hear your concerns about the pain you are experiencing and can help you devise coping skills that can be practiced on a daily basis to improve your spirits and enhance your mental health.
  • Think about an antidepressant. See your doctor about taking an antidepressant if you are suffering from chronic pain and it is effecting your mental and emotional state. Some of the older, antidepressants, called tricyclic antidepressants, have been found to be useful for people who have pain issues as well as depressive issues. Even some of the newer SSRI antidepressants have been successfully used by people with chronic pain in order to relieve underlying depression associated with having pain every day.
  • Practice Tai chi. This is an ancient form of Chinese martial arts. It is now a practice mainly used for healing. It involves doing fluid movements in tune with your breath and has been known to reduce stress, improve balance, and improve perceptions of pain in those who are dealing with chronic pain.

Read more about it in this great book.

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How Your Body Uses Energy As You Continue to Train

How Your Body Uses Energy As You Continue to Train

How Your Body Uses Energy
How Your Body Uses Energy

How Your Body Uses Energy As You Continue to Train

When you first start working out, your body will go through a number of changes. These changes are designed to provide you with more energy and your ability to recruit that energy as and when you need it, is one of the biggest factors in determining how fit you are and how well you’re able to train. It’s also what controls the amount of fat you’re able to lose in any given amount of time!

Let’s see how this works and what you can do to improve it…

The ATP-CP System

Essentially, the body finds its energy using three separate systems and it goes through these three systems in order.

When you first start exercising, you will begin using what is known as the ‘ATP-CP’ system. This stands for adenosine triphosphate creatine phosphate system. Catchy!

Adenosine triphosphate is the most fundamental form of energy known to biology. This is what glucose must be broken down into in order to be used by the body and a fair amount of it exists inside your muscles at all times. As soon as you start exercising, you utilize that ATP and this provides up to a couple of seconds of power. CP – creatine phosphate – allows us to recycle ATP and is also stored in the muscles ready to use.

The ATP-CP system is the most energy efficient and provides us with energy without making us gasp or feel unwell.

The Glycogen Lactic Acid System

The glycogen lactic acid system works by using glycogen stored in the muscles. This is the second most energy efficient source but has the unwanted side effect of producing lactate and other metabolites as a by-product. Lactate makes us feel unwell if we keep pushing ourselves and correlates with other metabolites that can make the muscle feel like it’s burning.

We can usually use this system of energy for a couple of minutes before the lactate becomes too much or the burn becomes too much. It is possible to improve your tolerance to this however, with training.

The Aerobic System

Finally, we switch to the aerobic system. This is the energy system most of us are most familiar with and it works by utilizing oxygen in the blood in order to burn fat stores for energy. This is why it makes us start breathing more heavily and increases our heart rate.

The aerobic system is the least energy efficient and it takes time for the energy to be delivered. Thus we are forced to slow down once we reach this state. However, it is also the type of energy system that we are able to sustain the longest. In fact, we can continue with this kind of exercise indefinitely or until we collapse from a complete lack of body fat!

HIIT

HIIT (high intensity interval training) is so effective because it involves switching from the first two types of energy (anaerobic energy) to the last kind. This enables you to deplete both your glycogen and your fat stores and thus does both more effectively.

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How High Intensity Interval Training challenges the Body and Improves Fat Loss

How High Intensity Interval Training challenges the Body and Improves Fat Loss

High intensity interval training
High intensity interval training

How HIIT Challenges the Body and Improves Fat Loss

If you’ve read just about any fitness blog, magazine or website in recent years, then you’ll likely have come across HIIT.

HIIT: high intensity interval training. Sprinting at maximum heartrate for a short period of time and then switching to a slower form of exercise for a couple of minutes to recover before starting the whole cycle again.

This type of training is all the rage because it is known to burn more calories in less time when compared with steady state cardio. And it’s great for our VO2 max, mitochondrial function and more.

But why? How does it work? What makes it so special?

What Happens When You Push it Hard

When you engage in HIIT, you start out by pushing hard and going at or near to your maximum heart rate. This is what makes all the difference, as now you are depleting your body of all of its readily available energy in order to drive those fast twitch muscle fibers. This is anaerobic training and it relies on ATP stored in the muscles, as well as glycogen.

After this, you then switch to your regular exercise at around 70% of your maximum heart rate. This is a steady pace that you can maintain, that burns fat using the aerobic system and that allows you to recover and reduce the lactate and other metabolites that build up in your blood during intensive exercise.

Welcome to After Burn

Steady state cardio is normally something you can maintain for a long time before you start to tire out and this is why a lot of people will exercise by running at a steady pace for 40-60 minutes.

If you do this after having done high intensity training however, you will be running at a point when you have very little available energy in your muscles and in your blood. All the glycogen has been used up and thus you have to rely even more on fat in order to keep going. Your body becomes more efficient at burning fat and you see greater benefits from the short amount of training that comes after.

But this isn’t even the best bit. What’s so good about HIIT is that this after burn effect continues for hours after you finish training. You’re now going about your usual activities with less glycogen, which means you’ll burn more fat even to do regular things like picking up a fork, or walking across the room!

Athletic Benefits

HIIT is also great for numerous other reasons. For starters, the explosive nature of the training means that you’re involving your fast twitch muscle fibers. This means that you’ll release more anabolic hormones like growth hormone and like testosterone, leading to more growth. And because you’re not completely relying on your blood sugar, you’re not going to go into as catabolic a state and risk burning fat.

Another benefit of HIIT is that it improves your energy efficiency. Because you’re pushing your cells to make energy more quickly, they become better at doing just that – improving your health, fitness and athletic performance across the board!

High intensity interval training
High intensity interval training

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