Im sure most of you reading this understand that the body requires food to operate correctly right? If you’re hungry you’ll probably notice you’re a bit sluggish or even sleepy, this is because food in turn provides the body with energy.

The body has three different systems that provide energy in different scenarios

Pretty simple in theory, right? Well like everything if you dig a little deeper you’ll realise there is a bit more to it than just food = energy. This is because there are different types of energy systems in the body, learning and understanding all 3 will ensure you can maximise your workouts and go in fuelled correctly for your session.

Much like a car our bodies only run on one type of fuel, this is ATP (adenosin triphosphate).

This enables the body to move, generate force to move objects as well as create heat and repair tissue.

ATP is created by breaking down the food we eat, the more aerobic exercise you do the better you become at breaking down the food you consume.

The body does not pick which one to use exclusively, the body can in fact use all 3 at any 1 time.

ATP is made up of 1 adenosine molecule and 3 phosphate molecules, it is the bonds between these molecules breaking that release the energy in the form of ADP (adenosine diphosphate). This energy will only last around 2 seconds and the body has a very limited store of it. Once it has been used up the body will regenerate the ADP back in to ATP so it can be used again.

The body has three different systems that provide energy in different scenarios, these are;

  • Creatine Phosphate System
  • Lactate System
  • Aerobic System

The body does not pick which one to use exclusively, the body can in fact use all 3 at any 1 time.

The basic difference between the systems is that one is able to provide a little ATP but will last a long time (think long distance runner) whereas another will provide you with maximum ATP but it will only last for a short period of time (think baseball player batting).

Creatine Phosphate (CP) System.

Creatine phosphate is the high energy, short duration energy system. The CP system requires no oxygen, carb or fat to work, instead it uses chemical energy, this chemical energy comes from creatine phosphate which can be almost immediately generated when the muscles store of ATP has been depleted.

Creatine Phosphate is much like ATP in that it contains a high energy bond which when broken down by an enzyme known as creatine kinase, releases enough energy to yield an ATP molecule. The body only has limited CP stores and the reaction occurs very quickly, the body will use this system when no oxygen is available, for example when a muscle is required to generate a great amount of force very quickly.

The CP system is used for short intense movements lasting from 1 to 10 seconds.

Lactate System.

This system is used by the body when exercise lasts longer than the creatine phosphate system or if the intensity during aerobic activity becomes greater than the aerobic system can provide for.

When you’re standing in the mirror lifting that dumbbell up and down furiously so that you can fill the sleeves of your T shirt for the evening what is actually happening is that glucose is being converted in to lactic acid, which is not a problem if your body is able to remove it efficiently.

However when this lactic acid starts to accumulate you’ll find yourself unable to continue until a sufficient active recovery period is complete. This is known as the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA for short) and is what causes the burning pain you feel when exercising.

You can improve your lactate tolerance by doing targeted interval training, this will delay the accumulation and remove it quicker from the muscle when it does accumulate.

The lactate system is used for intense movements ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Aerobic System.

The aerobic system produces ATP from the breakdown of fats and carbs in the presence of Oxygen (aerobic means ‘with oxygen’). This is the most dominant energy system when oxygen is available, for example when the body is at rest this is the energy system in use but likewise also in use during gym based aerobic exercises.

Fat and carbs both produce energy in this system, fat actually produces more ATP than carbs, however it is not the preferred energy source as carbs are able to release energy faster than fats. This is why athletes such as marathon runners take part in ‘carbing up’ the day before a race so that they have a rich supply of fuel. The aerobic system is used for long duration workouts.

Hopefully you now understand how each of these systems plays a part in your routine, be it bodybuilding, running or boxing and use them to train smarter.