Energy Systems and Sports

By Karan Khurana

(The author is the QTCC [Quality, Training, Curriculum & Coach Engagement] head at KOOH Sports. He has more than 7 years of experience in the corporate sector with roles cutting across Strategy, M&A, Business Advisory, Business Development and Operations Management. Karan had assisted the Divisional Strategy and M&A team at Serco and has also worked for Business Link, West Midlands in the UK as a Sub-Contractor after completing his MBA from Birmingham City University. He is a passionate golfer and likes to travel, read & write.)

Energy Systems

All bodily functions and movement of body parts need a constant supply of energy. This energy is provided to the body by the food we eat. But that food needs to be converted into a chemical compound for use within the body, call it a common currency used by the body for the supply of energy. This chemical compound otherwise known as ATP is that common currency regardless of the energy system employed. There are essentially 3 main energy systems in the human body and either one of them or a combination of them get activated depending upon the type of activity being performed. It is imperative that Sports coaches and athletes design their training sessions keeping in mind the workings and interplay of the various energy systems.
Furthermore, it is also important to understand that no energy system works independently and that different activities and sports have a dominant system at play, and therefore training and program design need to be planned around the dominant energy system. For example, a marathoner cannot perform short distance sprints while training to compete, as the training demands would not match the Sport specific demands.
A. The ATP-PC System
The ATP-PC System is the high power, short duration energy system of the body. In the absence of oxygen and with the help of enzymes, the body breaks down ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), and as a result another chemical compound ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) is produced when the last group of Phosphate is broken. This process is also accompanied with the release of energy of approximately 7.3 Kcal. Although this is a massive release of energy from just a single chemical reaction, it is insufficient to produce more than a few seconds of work. Therefore, this system of energy generation is very effective for activities that require short bursts of energy where the duration is no more than 10-15 seconds. Activities such as the 100-meter dash and the 25-meter swim.
In addition to Adenosine, muscle cells also have another high-energy compound stored in them called CP (Creatine Phosphate or Phosphocreatine System). CP plays a vital role in re-synthesizing ATP, thereby replenishing ATP for energy generation.
B. The Anaerobic Gylcolytic System
The Glycolytic system is the moderate power and short duration energy system of the body. When the body requires a high burst of energy for a duration longer than 10-15 seconds it engages the Anaerobic Glycolytic System. This system has a higher proportion of energy storing capability. Energy is provided by the breaking down of Blood Glucose and or Glycogen which is stored in the muscles and liver. Glucose is then further broken down through the process of Glycolysis to create ATP at approximately 16 calories of energy per minute.
C. The Aerobic (Oxidative) System (In the presence of Oxygen)
The Aerobic system is the low power and long duration energy system of the body. The Aerobic system produces ATP through either Fatty Acids (Fats), Carbohydrates and as a last resort protein. Since the Aerobic system produces ATP in the presence of oxygen it has the capability to provide an endless supply of energy albeit at a much slower pace than the other two energy systems. Energy from this system fuels any activity that lasts longer than 3 minutes at low intensity or at complete rest and is estimated to create approximately 10 calories of energy per minute.


The Sport Specific Utilization of Various Energy Systems

As you can see from the table above that all three energy systems are interconnected but there will always be a dominance by one or a combination of two energy systems, coaches can effectively utilize this to plan and implement Sport specific energy system training. In addition, the coach as well the athlete must keep in mind, fueling of the various energy systems, as the type of fueling (Nutrition) required for different sports will be dependent on the energy systems that are utilized for that sport and critical to success on the field. For example, a distance athlete may require a higher amount of fat and carbohydrates in his or her diet as compared to a Footballer who will require a diet higher in Protein. Coaches need to be cognizant of this fact as success on the field is a function of optimum nutrition coupled with optimum training, i.e., a balanced sports delivery program.


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