Anabolism and catabolism: What is it and why should I take it into account?

Surely you've ever heard of these words. And you will probably know that they are concepts that have relevance when it comes to physical exercise. But what exactly is anabolism and cellular catabolism? Why do I have to take it into account? In this post we will try to explain it to you. So you can incorporate these concepts to organize and perform your routines and diets.

The human being is a living organism, and like any other, it needs energy to be able to live and maintain its vital structures and functions. Anabolism and catabolism are coordinated processes that take on more importance when we perform physical exercise, as the quality of these processes will be one of the factors that will determine our performance.

We have already advanced something, right? That's right, the human body gets its energy through metabolism . Inside the cells chemical reactions take place that transform the food into energy; These chemical reactions are what we call metabolism. And the basal metabolism is the energy that we need to be able to maintain life. Depending on the final result of the metabolic reactions two different processes will occur:

  • Catabolism : also called destructive metabolism; is the process by which decompose complex substances and/or large molecules (such as carbohydrates or fats) for energy generation . This process allows us to contract the muscles, move, warm the body, as well as carry out the anabolic reactions. When there is a lack of energy (because we have not eaten enough, or because we have spent too much), the destruction of muscle tissue -catabolism occurs.
  • Anabolism : also called constructive metabolism ; in this process, simple molecules, through the application of energy, are transformed into larger and more complex molecules (proteins, carbohydrates, fats ...) and new cells that will contribute to body tissue maintenance and creation of new fabrics, as well as the creation of energy reserves to be used in the future. Athletes are interested in encouraging anabolism at all costs, because in short, is the process that will allow us to create muscle tissue/muscle through proper nutrition .

Anabolism and Catabolism

There are many factors and hormones involved in these processes, but to make it easier for us to take into account these chemical reactions in our day to day and more easily reach our goal -the creation of muscle mass-, we are going to give you some tricks:

Factors that favor anabolism:

  • Feeding: We have to give enough energy to the body so that it can function properly. Eating foods rich in proteins of a high biological quality, approximately 25% of our daily calories, will favor the processes of anabolism.
  • Energy after exercise: once our reserves are exhausted energetic after physical exercise, we must refill them.Drink at least two liters of water a day and hydrate while doing physical exercise. Think that every hour we spend without drinking water we lose 10% of our overall performance.
  • Rest: during the night and while we sleep the body regenerates, that's why it's so important rest for 7 to 8 hours daily. If you take proteins of slow assimilation at night, you will favor that the body does not enter in a state of fasting.

Factors that favor catabolism:

  • Excess of cardio: Cardiovascular exercise allows us to gain resistance as well as using lipids (fats) as an energy source, but in addition it does not favor the creation of muscle tissue, cell catabolism occurs in the muscles.
  • Fasting: In prolonged periods of food deprivation the body enters a state of fasting that causes the destruction of the body. muscle tissue to obtain energy. We should not stop eating, even in periods of muscular definition.
  • A lot of exercise intensity without enough glycogen reserves: glycogen is obtained from carbohydrates; If we do not have enough reserves, to continue obtaining energy the body will resort to the muscular tissues, producing the catabolism.
  • Stress: When we are subjected to a lot of stress the body generates cortisol, a hormone that favors the accumulation of fats and muscle catabolism.
  • Overtraining: more is not always better. If we train, we will also generate cortisol and also train in a permanent state of fatigue. That will make us feel bad and, if we continue training, increase the risk of injury.


There is no universal method or guideline for the creation of muscle tissue/mass. The key is in the balance between proper nutrition, physical exercise in a healthy way and rest. You must learn to listen to your body and connect with it, that is what will make you feel great and will give you results.

Source: Chicharro, L and Vaquero, F. (2006). Physiology of the exercise. Wilmore, J and Costill, D. (2004). Physiology of sport effort. Prof. Jairo Reyes Magister in Exercise Physiology.

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