Energy production is both time and intensity related. Running at a
very high-intensity, as in sprinting, means that an athlete can operate
effectively for only a very short period whereas running at a low-intensity, as in
gentle jogging, means that an athlete can sustain activity for an extended period.
There is a relationship between exercise intensity and the energy source.
Matthews (1971) divides the running
requirements of various sports into the following "energy pathways": ATP-CP and
LA, LA-02, and 02.
- ATP - Adenosine Triphosphate: a complex chemical compound
formed with the energy released from food and stored in all cells, particularly
muscles. Only from the energy released by this compound's breakdown can the cells perform work. The breakdown of ATP produces energy and ADP.
- CP - Creatine Phosphate: a chemical compound stored in
the muscle, which when broken down aids in the manufacture of ATP. The combination
of ADP and CP produces ATP.
- LA - Lactic acid: a
fatiguing metabolite of the lactic acid system resulting from the incomplete
breakdown of glucose. However, Noakes in South Africa has discovered that
although excessive lactate production is part of the extreme fatigue process,
it is the protons produced at the same time that restricts further
- O2 means aerobic running in which ATP is manufactured
from food, mainly sugar and fat. This system produces ATP copiously and is the
prime energy source during endurance activities
When working at 95% effort, these energy pathways are time-limited and the consensus on these times are as follows:
|1 to 4 seconds
||ATP (in muscles)
|4 to 10 seconds
||ATP + CP
|10 to 45 seconds
||ATP + CP + Muscle glycogen
|45 to 120 seconds
|120 to 240 seconds
||Aerobic + Anaerobic
||Muscle glycogen + lactic acid
|240 to 600 seconds
||Muscle glycogen + fatty acids
The result of muscle contraction produces ADP which, when
coupled with CP regenerates ATP. Actively
contracting muscles obtain ATP from glucose stored in the bloodstream and the
breakdown of glycogen stored in the muscles. Exercise for longer periods
requires the complete oxidation of carbohydrates or free fatty acids in the
mitochondria. The carbohydrate store will last approximately 90 minutes, and the free
fatty store will last several days.
All three energy systems contribute at the start of exercise, but the contribution depends on the individual, the effort applied, or the rate at which energy is used.
Davis et al. (2000), shows how the energy systems
contribute to the manufacture of ATP when exercising at 100% effort.
The thresholds (T) indicate that the energy system is exhausted -
training will improve thresholds times.
The Alactic Energy System
Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) stores in the muscle last for
approximately 2 seconds. The resynthesis of ATP from Creatine Phosphate (CP)
will continue until CP stores in the muscles are depleted, approximately 4 to 6 seconds. This
gives us around 5 to 8 seconds of ATP production.
To develop this energy system, sessions of 4 to 8 seconds of
high-intensity work at near peak velocity are required e.g.
- 3 × 10 × 30 metres with a recovery of 30
seconds/repetition and 3 minutes/set.
- 15 × 60 metres with 60 seconds recovery
- 20 × 20 metres shuttle runs with 45 seconds
- (Phosphocreatine + ADP) ⇒ (Creatine Phosphokinase) ⇒ (Creatine + ATP)
Influence of the recovery time
The length of recovery between repetitions is vital in recovering power output through CP's resynthesis. A study by Holmyard et al. (1994) with a group of subjects who performed six-second sprints with recovery intervals from 15 to 180 seconds found that there is an 81% recovery in peak power output (PPO) with a one-minute recovery and a 92% recovery of PPO in three minutes.
The Lactate Energy System
Once the CP stores are depleted the body resorts to stored glucose for ATP, the breakdown of glucose or glycogen in anaerobic conditions results in lactate and hydrogen ions production. The accumulation of hydrogen ions is the limiting factor causing fatigue in 300 metres to 800 metres.
Sessions to develop this energy system:
- 5 to 8 × 300 metres fast - 45 seconds recovery -
until pace significantly slows
- 150-metre intervals at 400-metre pace - 20 seconds
recovery - until pace significantly slows
- 8 × 300 metres - 3 minutes recovery (lactate
There are three units within this energy
system: Speed Endurance, Special Endurance 1 and Special Endurance 2. Each of
these units can be developed as follows:
||95 to 100%
||90 to 100%
||90 to 100%
||80 to 150m
||150 to 300m
||300 to 600m
|No of Repetitions/Set
||2 to 5
||1 to 5
||1 to 4
|No of Sets
||2 to 3
||300 to 1200m
||300 to 1200m
||300 to 1200m
||3 × (60, 80, 100)
||2 × 150m +
2 × 200m
|3 × 500m
Anaerobic Capacity and Anaerobic Power
Anaerobic Capacity refers to the body's ability to regenerate ATP using the glycolytic system and Anaerobic Power refers to the body's ability to regenerate ATP using the phosphagen system. These energy systems can be developed with appropriate interval training sessions.
Glycolytic and Phosphagen energy systems
Glycolytic - the breakdown of glucose by enzymes into pyruvic and lactic acids with the release of energy (ATP).
Phosphagen - the use of creatine phosphate stored in the muscles to generate energy (ATP).
- (Glucose + 2 ATP) ⇒ (Pyruvic Acid) ⇒ (Lactic Acid + 2 ATP)
Denadal & Higino (2004) concluded from their research that 8 minutes is all you should take during track speed workouts over anything up to 800 metres - even those going deep into lactate build up.
The Aerobic Energy System
The aerobic energy system utilises proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (glycogen) to synthesise ATP. This energy system can be developed with
various intensity (Tempo) runs.
The types of Tempo runs are:
- Continuous Tempo - long slow runs at 50 to 70% of maximum heart rate. This places demands on muscle and
liver glycogen. The usual response by the system is to enhance muscle and
liver glycogen storage capacities and glycolytic activity associated with these
- Extensive Tempo - continuous runs at 60 to 80% of
maximum heart rate. This places demands on the system to cope with lactate
production. Running at this level assists the removal and turnover of lactate
and the body's ability to tolerate higher levels of lactate
- Intensive Tempo - continuous runs at 80 to 90% of
maximum heart rate. Lactate levels become high as these runs border on speed
endurance and special endurance. Intensive tempo training provides the base for the
development of anaerobic energy systems
Sessions to develop this energy system:
- 4 to 6 × 2 to 5-minute runs - 2 to 5 minutes
- 20 × 200m - 30 seconds recovery
- 10 × 400m - 60 to 90 seconds recovery
- 5 to 10-kilometre runs
- (Glucose + Fats + Amino Acids + Oxygen) ⇒ (Krebs Cycle) ⇒ (34 ATP)
Energy System recruitment
Although all energy systems turn on at the same time, the
recruitment of an alternative system occurs when the current energy system is
almost depleted. The following table provides an approximation of the percentage
contribution of the energy pathways in certain sports (Fox 1993).
Other names used for the Energy Systems
The Alactic Energy System is also referred to as the:
- PCr Energy System
- ATP-CP Energy System
- ATP-PCr Energy System
- Start-Up Energy System
- Creatine Phosphate Energy System
- Oxidative Independent Energy System
- Alactic Anaerobic Energy System
- Short-Term Energy System
The Lactate Energy System is also referred to as the:
- Lactic Acid Energy System
- Lactic Anaerobic Energy System
- Anaerobic Lactate Energy System
- Linking Energy System
- Oxidative Independent Glycolytic Energy System
- Non-oxidative Glycolytic Energy System
- Medium Term Energy System
The Aerobic Energy System is also referred to as the:
- Keep going Energy System
- Oxidative Dependent Energy System
- Long-Term Energy System
- FOX, E.L. et al. (1993) The
Physiological Basis for Exercise and Sport. 5th ed. Madison: Brown & Benchmark
- MATTHEWS, D. et al. (1971) The
Physiological Basis of Physical Education and Athletics. Philadelphia: Saunders
- DAVIS, B. et al. (2000) The Interrelationship of the energy system and their threshold points [Diagram]. In: Physical Education and the Study of Sport. London: Harcourt Publishers p.139
- HOLMYARD, D.J. et al. (1994) Effect of recovery on performance during multiple treadmill sprints. London: E&FN Spon
- DENADAL, B.S and HIGINO, W.P. (2004) Effect of the passive recovery period on the lactate minimum speed in sprinters and endurance runners. J Sci Med Sport, 7 (4), p. 488-96
The following references provide additional information on this topic:
- GASTIN, P. B. (2001) Energy system interaction and relative contribution during maximal exercise. Sports Medicine, 31
(10), p. 725-741
- WADLEY, G. and LE ROSSIGNOL, P. (1998) The relationship between repeated sprint ability and the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 1 (2), p. 100-110
- SERRESSE, O. et al. (1988) Estimation of the contribution of the various energy systems during maximal work of short duration. International journal of sports medicine, 9 (06), p. 456-460
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
- MACKENZIE, B. (1998) Energy Pathways [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/energy.htm [Accessed
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: