Understanding Energy Systems

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Understanding the body’s energy systems and how to use them gives the hidden secret on how to to train athletes. During exercise, your body relies on three basic energy systems: the anaerobic a-lactic system, the anaerobic lactic system, and the aerobic system. Depending on the sports played, athletes rely on one system more than the others.

Anaerobic A-Lactic (ATP-CP) Energy System

Athletes who compete in sports that require high amounts of short duration acceleration up to 20 seconds fall into this category. The ALA system does not create energy for sufficient duration to create a great deal of waste products. 

Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System

The anaerobic lactic (AL) system provides energy for medium to high intensity bursts of activity that lasts from 20s-90s. The AL system, as well as the ATP-CP system, are capable of high intensity levels, and do not rely on oxygen for fuel. The primary difference between the two systems is in the capacity of the system. You can think of capacity as the amount of time that the system can work at peak output before dropping off.

The ALA system will only produce energy up to 20 seconds and the AL system works at capacity for as long as 90s. As a result, waste products such as lactic acid accumulate in the blood and muscles cells causing a burning sensation in muscles, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Aerobic Energy System

The aerobic system is the most utilized of the three. It provides energy for low intensity activities that last anywhere between 60s to a few hours. Unlike the other two systems, the aerobic system requires oxygen and takes much longer to overload.

In reality, most sports use a variety of energy systems, or at least the power (time to reach peak output) and the capacity (duration that peak output can be sustained) of the system. Understanding which energy system is most prevalent in a given sport dictates the training intent. If you would like to learn more about energy system development please contact us.

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