Aerobic metabolism is the production of energy by the body with sufficient oxygen. Aerobic metabolism breaks down glycogen or glucose and fats. The resulting end products are carbon dioxide and water. Energy is provided by aerobic metabolism when less energy is required per unit time. If the energy demand is higher than it is covered by the aerobic metabolism, then the body gains more energy from the anaerobic metabolism and lactate is produced. This metabolic intermediate, if not broken down, limits performance in the long term, as the muscles become over-acidified. The upper limit of aerobic metabolism is at a lactate concentration of 2 mmol/l.
The maximum energy flow rate is only half as high during aerobic glycogen breakdown and only a quarter as high during fat breakdown as during anaerobic glycolysis.
Anaerobic and aerobic metabolism have advantages and disadvantages. The two forms are not mutually exclusive, but can also complement each other. Whether energy is released from an anaerobic or aerobic metabolism depends on the load intensity.
Exercises in the aerobic metabolic range are generally considered economical and efficient.
Aerobic metabolism of carbohydrates
Aerobic metabolism of carbohydrates is faster than fat metabolism (ATP formation rate about one-fourth that of anaerobic-alactacid metabolism). The aerobic metabolism of carbohydrates is particularly useful in sports because they are stored directly in the muscles in the form of glycogen (see glycogen stores / carboloading). Glucose can be quickly and easily supplied in sports nutrition through carbohydrate-containing drinks, bars and gels, even during competition or training. The metabolic subprocesses do not take place in the cytoplasm as in anaerobic metabolism, but in the mitochondria. Therefore, basic endurance training in GA1 is a good way to improve aerobic glycolytic metabolism, because this stimulates the formation of mitochondria.
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It is important to keep in mind that the body’s glycogen stores in the muscles and liver are limited and will only last 60-90 minutes depending on the intensity of the load. Thus, the absorption capacity via the intestine limits a longer continuous output.
Fat burning in aerobic metabolism
The aerobic metabolism is of great importance for fat burning, as this is also where the so-called FatMax range lies. The energy production is aerobic lypolytic. Thus, cardio training in the aerobic range is often emphasized in health sports. In addition, training in this area can improve the overall fat burning of the body. This is especially important for ambitious athletes, as better utilization of the body’s various energy reserves (especially fat & carbohydrates) is otherwise always a limiting performance factor.
Fat is stored in many parts of the body as an energy reserve, so it can always be used during ultra-endurance events (e.g. a 24h race or brevet) to maintain aerobic metabolism. Even though peak performance is not achieved in fat metabolism, improvement through training can pay significant dividends. More fat burning or the increased use of fat as an energy source means in this case that fewer carbohydrates are needed for the same performance. These can thus be used in decisive race situations, e.g. on the final climb of a long Tour de France stage.
It is important to understand, however, that improving aerobic energy production from fat is only ever possible in the long term and requires months of training. That is why endurance athletes from most disciplines spend a long time in the preparation period. This forms the beginning of a training plan and focuses on the training and development of basic endurance. This foundation is also important, above all, so that the body can cope with later, intensive training stimuli and competitions.
Aerobic metabolism in practice
Of course, no clear distinction can be made between aerobic glycolytic and aerobic lypolytic metabolism in practice. At all load intensities, the different metabolic processes take place simultaneously and are involved in the provision of energy. When training ambitious athletes, one rather pays attention to how the energy supply behaves proportionally. Thus, the maximum fat wetting can be achieved in the FatMax. Other training areas demand and promote other processes instead.
Aerobic metabolism in endurance sports
Aerobic metabolism is a key component in endurance sports. Cross-country skiers, cyclists and other athletes therefore focus their training on achieving improvements here. Particularly important is the training of basic endurance. Here, a steady load is aimed for in a low load range (below the anaerobic threshold). Training camps with units between 3 and 8 hours are quite normal for professional athletes and are part of the requirements in competitive sports.
Aerobic energy production takes on an increasingly important role during exertion lasting longer than one minute. It is therefore easy to distinguish between the training processes in track cycling and athletics. The sprint disciplines are still very power-focused and try to achieve a high rate of lactate formation in order to achieve a high power output in the relatively short loading period. These include the short time disciplines of track events (Sprint, TeamSprint, 1000m Time Trial) and in athletics the 100m, 110m Hurdles, 200m and 400m.
In endurance, i.e. running distances from 800m up to marathon (1500m, mile, 3000m (hurdles), 5000m, 10000m and half marathon) as well as individual pursuit and team pursuit or Madison on the track, training is primarily focused on improving aerobic metabolism, increasing VO2Max and lowering lactate formation rate.
For this purpose, long, relatively leisurely sessions in GA1 are used above all. Even for professionals, an occasional coffee break after 3 – 4 hours of training is more of a duty than an exception.
Anaerobic metabolism is the counterpart of aerobic metabolism. In this process, energy is obtained without the use of oxygen.
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