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  • Bioenergetics and the Olympic Athlete

    by User Not Found | Feb 11, 2014

    By Mark Deaton, Ph.D., CSCS, EIM

    We all desire to be bigger, faster, stronger – but how do we get there?

    Some people look to the $400 billion supplement industry, while others take a more natural approach. Bioenergetics is the term used for the interactive energy systems within the human body and how energy is expended through exercise. It is defined as the conversion of protein, carbohydrates and fats into biologically usable energy that can be used for muscular activity (Powers, S.K, Howley, E.T. 2009, p 23). Fueling a working body is as vital to training and performance as gasoline or electricity is for an automobile. Some may think understanding the biochemical components of each food isn’t necessary, as long as you “just eat it!” But we know food comes in various nutrient levels; therefore, it would be best to understand proper nutrition. It is critical for an athlete to have a better understanding of bioenergetics to increase the efficiency of their personal performance (Powers, S.K., Howley, E.T. 2009, p. 23-24).

    The three energy systems are: 1) Phosphagen (ATP-PC) – responsible for producing energy for the first few seconds of any athletic event; 2) Glycolysis – continues energy production from 30 seconds to three minutes into the athletic event via the breakdown of carbohydrates from blood glucose or muscle glycogen stores; and 3) Oxidative (aerobic) – produces energy after three minutes until the event ends or fatigue limits the performance. The primary source of energy produced by these three systems is adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Depending on the intensity and duration of the athletic event, these energy systems will interact with one another and even revert back and forth on a continuum of ATP production. An example would be a sprint at the end of an endurance event where a crossover effect to fast glycolysis will occur (Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W., 2008, p. 22-36). Educating yourself on the effects of certain nutrients and their combinations will provide a potential natural advantage that your energy systems will utilize.

    So, what do you need to know? Educate yourself as an athlete and as a health professional who works with athletes regarding bioenergetics and proper nutrition for performance. Before recommending or taking supplements, reevaluate training principles (overload, progression, etc.), and supplement safety. Analyze current calorie-to-protein intake from natural sources (Hoffman, J. 2010, SSTC). Chances are you may find an area to manipulate slightly that could result in a more productive performance.


    How does your food intake affect your performance?

    Knowing the sport-specific demands of your sport, how have you manipulated your training and nutrition?

    What are your thoughts on nutrient timing (pre-event, post-event) and what foods are ingested?


    Baechle, T.R., Earle, R.W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. National Strength and Conditioning Association. 3rd edition.

    Hoffman, J. (2010). Sport-specific training conference. National Strength and Conditioning Association.

    Powers, S.K., Howley, E.T. (2009). Exercise physiology: Theory and application to fitness and performance. 7th edition. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.    

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