Metabolism is a complex science and without a scientific background most people are unable to understand it fully. However, as a strength trainer or athlete it is useful to have some knowledge of the subject in order to appreciate the importance of good nutrition. Metabolism is the term used to describe all of the biochemical reactions and processes that take place in the body. In broad terms, these can be grouped into two main process pathways: anabolism and catabolism.
Anabolism is the construction of complex molecules from smaller units to create new cellular materials including enzymes, proteins, cells and tissues. In other words it provides the body’s growth, maintenance and repair functions.
Catabolism works in the opposite direction and is the breakdown of complex molecules into smaller units and the release of energy to fuel anabolism.
Where does the energy come from?
Energy is produced in every cell of the body as a result of the catabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Energy is released when a chemical bond is broken within the substance adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The ATP molecule, found in every cell in the body, consists of a carbon “backbone” to which three phosphate groups are attached.
When one phosphate group breaks off energy is released and the molecule is converted to adenosine diphosphate (ADP). A new phosphate group immediately attaches to the ADP molecule, turning it back into ATP and this process repeats itself continually. You can think of ATP as a fully charged battery, which can provide instant energy. But only a small amount of ATP is stored in the muscles for immediate use and when you begin to exercise the body must manufacture more ATP by mobilizing its reserves of glycogen, in the first instance.
A quantity of glycogen is stored in the muscles and in the liver, and is capable of providing sufficient energy for most activities. However, when exercise is carried out over prolonged periods, glycogen supplies can become exhausted and additional fuel is required.
Stored fat can provide this fuel, but only when sufficient oxygen is present within the body to metabolize it. Proteins can also be used as energy for exercise. However, this involves the breakdown of muscle tissue into amino acids for energy production. The body resorts to this only when glycogen supplies are low.
A diet low in carbohydrate reduces the amount of stored glycogen. This means that protein is more likely to be mobilized to create additional energy, leading to the loss of muscle and lean tissue.
What are the Basal Metabolic Rate and the Resting Metabolic Rate?
The Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR is the amount of energy used by the body for the vital functions while at rest and when the digestive system is inactive. It is normally expressed as the number of calories required daily. A true reading of BMR is difficult to ascertain because it requires the body to have fasted for approximately twelve hours prior to measurement and to be completely at rest.
Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR is similar to BMR but is measured under slightly less stringent conditions. Both are influenced by age, sex, height and even climatic conditions and although they differ in scientific definition, they are generally regarded as interchangeable terms.
Nutrition and Metabolism
Good nutrition plays a vital role in maintaining metabolism at optimum levels. The body needs a wide range of nutrients to function optimally and even a slight deficiency of one vitamin or mineral can slow down metabolism and cause chaos throughout the body.
Maintaining a fully functioning metabolism is therefore critical for the athlete or strength trainer. Adhering to the principles of the food pyramid is a great start in achieving the correct balance.
But most of us need some assistance in achieving the perfect plan, particularly if you make a change to your training program.
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