How Muscles Get Energy From Food

Posted on: Apr 3rd, 2017 by The Physio Movement | Categories: Sports Medicine & Nutrition

The major fuel source that muscles use for energy is carbohydrates as it’s the quickest source of energy. Once consumed carbohydrates are converted into sugars including glucose that are absorbed and used for energy. Any glucose that’s not utilised immediately is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles to be used later as a quick use fuel, remembering that excess is stored as fats that can be used as a slower release energy. Fat stores are endless, liver and muscle stores are not.

Fats are stored as triglycerides in your body, normally within adipose tissue. If your body requires energy and glucose isn’t available, your adipose tissue begins to break down fatty acids into molecules that the cells use for energy. The breakdown of fats plays a crucial role in weight loss.


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Proteins contain units called amino acids and are a very complex structure. This complexity results in the body taking longer to break them down, which produces a much slower and longer lasting source of energy. If more protein is consumed than is needed by the body, it will be broken down and stored as fat.

There is disagreement in the literature about low vs. high carbohydrate, protein and fat diets. Depending on what exercise you partake in and whether strength, endurance, power or weight loss is a goal will help tailor an appropriate eating plan.

In general, Carbohydrate rich foods are eaten and go through the process above to provide us with energy. If you are not consuming enough carbohydrate or use up your existing stores, the body will break down fat and protein to get this energy. For strength athletes this protein break down can cause a problem, as protein is the fuel used to build muscles. It is argued that protein breakdown may be less of problem for distance athletes and this slow release energy can be beneficial in long sustained exercise bouts, especially once carbohydrate stores are utilised. We have to constantly restock our protein stores which mean’s eating protein rich foods to help this occur.

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