Fitness and Energy Pathways

The whole point of training is to feel and function better today than yesterday. If you strength train, your goal should be to progressively gain strength every week resulting in a capacity to move much larger loads than you could, say, a year ago. Similarly, the goal of endurance training should be to cover longer distances or minimize the time required to cover a certain distance. If, for any reason, your training is making you weaker/slower than you previously were, you are doing it wrong. You need to stop and do a restart.

That said, for us to perform any activity we need energy. We get all our energy from food and that’s precisely why we ‘measure’ food in terms of number of calories which is a unit of energy. Remember that energy can neither be created nor be destroyed; it can be only be converted from one state to another. So,

  • the body considers the food you eat as mere packets of calories (energy).
  • the energy you consume is either used up by the body for activity or stored.
  • if energy consumption is higher than required (hypercaloric state), the body uses what it needs based on activity level and stores the remaining calories in some form or the other.
  • if energy consumption is lower than required (hypocaloric state), the body uses all the available energy and starts to use the stored energy in order to continue activity.

Depending on how much excess energy is consumed and how empty these ‘storage units’ are, energy can be stored in the body as one or more of these – Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) or muscle glycogen or liver glycogen or good ‘ol fat. Generally speaking, all of us have some amount of energy stored in each of these units. While the average untrained person has his ATP, muscle and liver stores topped off, it is virtually impossible to top off the fat tank. You can continue to overfeed all your life (hyperphagia resulting in chronic hypercaloricity) and your fat cells will just keep storing those extra calories. In other words, you can eat like a pig every single day and you will continue to get infinitely fat. How this happens and why it gets stored into one or more of these storage units is not within the scope of this post.

We can get into crazy detail about energy pathways, but to keep the less geeky folks less bored, the following is all that you need to know.

  • High Intensity Activity < 10 sec (Eg. strength training) – Energy from Adenosine Triphosphate (Anaerobic)
  • High Intensity Activity < 45 sec (Eg. 200m sprint) – Energy from Adenosine Triphosphate (Anaerobic) and muscle glycogen
  • High Intensity Activity < 4min – Energy from muscle glycogen (Anaerobic)
  • Low Intensity Activity > 4min – Energy from fatty acids/fat stores (Aerobic)

Why should you train the different energy pathways?

Being fit is being capable of using your body in a multitude of ways. If you call yourself fit, you better be able to lift some respectable weight off the floor, sprint for a decent distance without collapsing, cover long distances by foot and jump higher than at least your puppy dog. In short, you need to be able to control energy production to fuel activities that require a sudden burst of energy and activities that require a slow consistent release of energy. I’ve said it a bunch of times and I’ll say it again – fitness is about utilizing, not just one but, all these energy pathways. Hence the recommendation to strength train 2-3 times/week, sprint/row once a week, perform high intensity conditioning once or twice a week and occasionally run/walk moderately long distances. When you do all these activities over a week or two you are effectively training all the different energy pathways and providing rest to one while training the other.

How should you train the different energy pathways?

  • Don’t do just one thing over and over again.
  • Do different activities that demand different nuances of fitness – lift, sprint, run distance, row, jump, squat, hang, pull, push, stretch.

How about a weekly plan?

Monday – Strength training – Upper body pushing movement [Anaerobic – ATP]

Tuesday – Sprints [Anaerobic – ATP + glycogen]

Wednesday – Strength training – Upper body pulling movement [Anaerobic – ATP]

Thursday – Yoga/slow biking/walking/jogging for 30-50 mins [Aerobic]

Friday – 10-20min high intensity conditioning workout [Anaerobic – ATP + glycogen]

Saturday – Strength training – Lower body [Anaerobic – ATP]

Sunday – Rest

For the following week, stick to the strength workouts and mix up the sprints and conditioning days with different workout.

Hope this helps. Peace out.

One response to “Fitness and Energy Pathways

  1. Pingback: Overtraining 102 – Symptoms, Prevention and Cure « Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.

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