facebook noscript

Home /

Get to know your Energy Pathways 

We believe that to better understand the body is to better nourish it. Today, we’re focusing on learning about 3 different “energy pathways”—aka the different ways that the body channels and distributes energy.

Energy System 1: Phosphocreatine System

The body gets energy for movement, growth and repair from the foods we eat, namely carbohydrate, fat and protein. But even after digesting these macronutrients, the body can’t use them directly to perform the task it needs to do. Instead, these food sources are used to create another form of energy, ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).

Using fat or carbohydrate to make ATP requires a little bit of time to do. So when the body needs rapid and powerful energy, there is another way it can generate ATP - through the phosphocreatine system. To keep it simple, creatine-phosphate stores in the body donate their phosphate to regenerate ATP, allowing up to 10 seconds of really powerful energy production. But creatine stores in the body can also be limited, therefore capping energy production and resulting performance through this pathway. Since creatine is mostly found in animal foods, vegans and vegetarians are especially likely to be low on this vital energy source. Regardless of diet, though, creatine supplementation has been shown to be beneficial for almost everyone. 

Taking 3-5 grams daily of supplemental creatine in the easy-to-use form of creatine monohydrate has been shown to improve creatine stores in the body, leading to faster all-out sprint times, increased reps of heavy lifting, and even improved endurance and recovery. Creatine requires consistent use to be effective, as the impacts are most pronounced when creatine stores are saturated. You’ll start to notice the difference after taking it daily for 3 weeks, or even sooner if you’re a vegan or vegetarian. Then continue taking creatine through the course of your training. One easy way to make sure you’re getting enough - try our Creatine Performance Boost.


Example exercises that rely on the phosphocreatine system include: strength training, powerlifting, olympic lifting, and 50-100 meter sprints.


Energy System 2: Glycolysis


After the first 10 seconds or so of hard effort, the body can no longer rely on creatine phosphate for energy to keep going. At this point, in order to generate ATP and keep your muscles working, your muscles use what is called glycolysis (which means “to break glucose”) to generate energy from carbohydrates. The benefit of this energy pathway is that it doesn’t require oxygen to work. This is helpful when you’re working so hard that you can’t get enough oxygen to your working muscles fast enough. So instead, enzymes in your cells break down sugar into energy-containing molecules and byproducts. The beneficial molecules get turned into ATP, while the byproducts, namely Lactic Acid, start to accumulate in your bloodstream. 

Lactic Acid was previously thought to cause muscle soreness after exercise, and high levels in the blood were thought to be a marker of low fitness levels. However, this isn’t actually true. Lactic Acid is beneficial because it can also be pulled back into pathways to generate more energy. The tricky thing is when too much accumulates too fast, faster than the body can utilize. When this happens, the pH (acidity) of the blood starts to increase. This sends a strong signal to the body to work less hard or slow down, and causes a burning sensation in the limbs. 

Want to delay the burning fatigue? Supplemental beta alanine acts as a buffer in the blood to bind to lactic acid, delaying the time before fatigue sets in. Our Personalized Pre-workout is packed with clinically effective doses of beta alanine to ensure you can power through!


Example exercises that rely on glycolysis include: 400-800 meter running, 50-100 meter swimming, Badminton, soccer, and gymnastics


Energy System 3: Oxidative Phosphorylation (Electron transport chain & mitochondria)


If you’re engaging in exercise lasting longer than a few minutes, you’re going to have to reduce the intensity. If the lactic acid burn doesn’t make you, your brain will! Glycolysis can no longer generate enough ATP to sustain your intensity of exercise. This is where the aerobic energy pathway comes in. Aerobic exercise refers to the use of oxygen to generate ATP. You could theoretically sustain this level of intensity for hours if you’re well-trained!

Oxygen that is taken in from the air and through the lungs travels through the bloodstream to every cell in your body. Inside your cells live tiny organelles, called mitochondria. Mitochondria, you might remember from high school biology, are often referred to as the “powerhouse of the cell” because they are the structure that takes oxygen and uses it to make lots of ATP to sustain your exercise, and life! This is the energy pathway that is working around the clock to keep your heart beating and cells thriving.

A chain reaction occurs on the mitochondrial membrane (lining) called the Electron Transport Chain, where tiny chemicals are passed from molecule to molecule until finally, a big burst of energy is produced. Even though this process generates the most energy, it’s slow to occur. Which is why glycolysis and the phosphocreatine systems are necessary for fast energy. In fact, you’re always using each pathway, but how much of each one at any given time depends on what your body is doing at the moment. 

You know what else puts a damper on endurance? Dehydration. In order for oxygen to be delivered to your working tissues at an effective rate, consuming electrolytes with your workout help to keep water volume in your blood high and the oxygen flowing. Make sure you’re consuming Personalized Hydration with your endurance workouts!


Example exercises that rely on oxidative phosphorylation include: endurance running, cycling, walking, dancing and hiking.


Have more questions? Our Registered Dietitians and Certified Personal Trainers on staff are always happy to provide more resources to get you closer to your goals. Reach out now!

Explore Gainful's Personalized Nutrition System

gainful-product-family
Take the quiz to find your personalized nutrition system and get $15 off your first order.
Take the quiz