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ATP Defined

Energy is fundamental to human life processes especially for the contraction of our skeletal muscles to generate the strength to perform every activities and to pump steel. We ultimately derive energy from food but how do we burn those calories and transform it into useable energy? Cells are the simplest building blocks of the human body. At that cellular level, special processes are happening which transform the carbohydrates, fats and proteins that we consume into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which plays a vital role as an ‘energy currency’.1 Muscle cells in particular require huge amounts of ATP, given the considerable workload they have during training. During a muscle contraction, ATP is broken down into adenosine diphosphate (ADP) releasing energy . ADP then gets recycled in the cell’s ATP producing factories called mitochondria to be reused to make ATP. Other processes also occur to generate the all important ATP molecules needed for our workouts.

ATP & Bodybuilding

Ever wondered why it’s good to breathe with each bicep curl or abdominal crunch? Breathing and inspriration helps lead to cellular respiration, which is the process of changing our nutrients into the vital ATP. There are 2 types:

  • Aerobic Respiration - Requires oxygen and is the most efficient producing a lot of ATP but in a slower fashion.
  • Anaerobic Respiration - Occurs without oxygen and while inefficient in ATP production, it replenishes our ATP extremely fast.

ATP & Workouts

In high intensity situations, our ATP comes first from the stored ATP in our muscles. Once this store has been diminished, we must start generating our own ATP. At high intensities of exercise, this ATP production occurs with the breakdown of creatine phosphate in your muscles. As we only have a set amount of creatine in our muscles, this method of ATP production runs out rather fast too. As the exercise gets longer in duration we use other, slower methods of ATP regeneration such as glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation. While these systems regenerate ATP slower, they provide us with the most energy. A decrease in the initial level of creatine in our body is what is thought to be one cause of fatigue in high intensity situations.2

More ATP For Better Training

Essentially, it all comes down to this question. How do we gain more ATP during those intense phases of our workout? While creatine phosphate can replenish itself completely in about 8 minutes, it may be more beneficial to start initially with a higher level of creatine phosphate in your muscles. One of the most researched methods to increase creatine phosphate reserves is the use of creatine monohydrate (CM) which is a common supplement sold to bodybuilders and athletes. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition3, CM is effective and safe when used appropriately according to professional guidelines. Several studies have supported creatine supplementation and its ability to increase muscle reserves of phosphocreatine by between 10-40% with ergogenic properties of increased muscle hypertrophy and improved muscular strength and performance.4,5 So why not give yourself that little bit more energy and ATP and consider building up your creatine stores.

1.  Bergman, J., ATP: The Perfect Energy Currency for the Cell (1999)  <http://www.trueorigin.org/atp.asp>.
2.  Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 3rd Ed. Baechle TR and Earle RW. National Strength and Conditioning Association. 2008 p. 33
3.  Buford, TW et al, 'International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise' (2007)
4 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 6
4.  Kreider RB. 'Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Performance and Training Adaptations.' Molecular and Cellular Biochem 2003; Feb;244(1-2):89-94
5. Creatine and Creatine Kinase in Health and Disease. Peter Hespel and Wim Derave. Springer 2008. Chapt. 12

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