ATP – You Gotta Have It

April 7, 2020


Keep Your Power Plants Running. That's Rule #6.

#1 - Lift Heavy Things
#2 - Increase Nutrient Density
#3 - Sprint Occasionally
#4 - If It's Good for You, Do It Every Day
#5 - Fast Intermittently Often
#6 - Keep Your Power Plants Running

You Need ATP

You need energy constantly and your body continuously makes it for you. No energy production (or compromised energy production) and you're in deep doodoo.

You have billions of little power plants, called mitochondria, in all your cells. They constantly produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which is the energy your body consumes to keep things running.

ATP cannot be stored so it is made constantly. The numbers are incredible:
  1. the average cell uses 10 billion ATP per day
  2. the average adult uses 3 x 10e25 (3 times 10 to the 25th power) of ATP each day
  3. a healthy person at rest produces their body weight in ATP every day
  4. at maximal exercise, a healthy person can produce from 0.5 to 1.0 kilogram of ATP per minute
It's not an understatement to say "you need a lot of ATP".

Which means you need a lot of healthy mitochondria since they are the power plants of ATP.

And mitochondrial function tends to decline with age. It's actually thought to be a main driver of ageing.

I don't pretend to understand the complexities of ATP production in the mitochondria, it's complicated to say the least. I just know you need a lot of energy on a constant basis and dysfunctional mitochondria are associated with a whole host of issues like:
  • Early aging
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autism
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Migraine headache
  • Parkinson’s disease
The good news is that maintaining healthy mitochondria is really the same as maintaining health in general - good nutrition, exercise, sunshine, stress mitigation, sleep, etc. Take care of yourself.

ATP Pathways

ATP production is all about creating the energy molecule for your body to run on. All cells need ATP to function.

There are three separate energy systems through which ATP can be synthesized:

  • ATP-PC system (also known as the phosphagen system or the Alactic system)
  • Anaerobic glycolytic system (also known as the lactate system or just Anaerobic system)
  • Aerobic system (also known as slow glycolysis or oxidative phosphorylation or just Aerobic system)
The ATP-PC system and anaerobic glycolytic system are both anaerobic systems, meaning that oxygen is not used by these systems to synthesize ATP.  The aerobic system on the other hand relies heavily on oxygen to synthesize ATP.

Most exercise involves ATP being synthesized through a mix of all three systems.  The factors that determine which system is most dominant at any time are the intensity and duration of exercise.

The diagram below left is an example of the percentage contribution of energy provided by each system during the initial two minutes (120 seconds) of a run (or any exercise).

You can see that all the energy systems turn on together but the Alactic system (ATP-PC) provides the initial boost (because this energy is instantaneously available); then the glycolytic system takes over as the alactic system fatigues and diminishes in output; finally the aerobic system starts to predominate as oxygen becomes available (from your elevated heart rate).

The take-away is you should do your best to train all your energy systems to maintain adequate levels of ATP and keep your mitochondria healthy.

Just like you train for different types of muscle development (heavy load with low reps vs light weights and higher reps or running quarter mile sprints vs running 10K's), you should train the energy production systems too.

Get good at producing energy from various sources and for different demands. Your performance will increase and your mitochondria, the little power plants within each cell, will stay healthy too.

#1 - Lift Heavy Things
#2 - Increase Nutrient Density
#3 - Sprint Occasionally
#4 - If It's Good for You, Do It Every Day
#5 - Fast Intermittently Often
#6 - Keep Your Power Plants Running

The corollary to Rule #6 is the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands). It means you get good at what you do. So if you want to produce loads of energy efficiently and for all types of work, then you must force your energy system to work.

So do the right kind of training to stimulate the right kind of energy production so you become an effortless, efficient energy producing machine.

Rule #7 is next. There is some confusion on this one.

Mark Fickler

Mark aka The Old Spartan and Over-50 Fitness Savior is a 64 year old coffee guzzling father of five wandering the outdoors around Albuquerque, New Mexico. Mark helps Active Boomers get lean, healthy and strong so they live rewarding, fun lives using his signature 2 Rule Easy Fat Loss training program.

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