Anabolism and catabolism may sound like superheroes from your kids favorite TV show, but these terms actually come from the health world. Doctors, dietitians, health coaches, and bodybuilders use their understanding of these two functions to create diet and exercise plans that can influence your metabolism (how your body uses energy) and ultimately, your overall health.
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But what exactly are anabolism and catabolism? Registered dietitian Anthony DiMarino explains how these processes work and gives some helpful tips for ensuring that your metabolism is running at full speed.
When you think catabolism, think digestion, says DiMarino. This process takes larger structures like proteins, fats or tissues and breaks them down into smaller units such as cells or fatty acids.
Catabolism occurs when youre digesting food. For example, its the process that dissolves a piece of bread into simple nutrients your body can use, like glucose (blood sugar). And if your body isnt getting the food and nutrients it needs to fuel daily living, catabolism is the mechanism that breaks down muscle and fat for energy.
Anabolism is the opposite of catabolism: Its the mechanism that takes smaller units like nutrients, cells, or amino acids and bonds them together to create bigger structures.
One example of anabolism in action is when your body is trying to heal a cut. It adds tissue and structures around that wound, DiMarino explains. Its also the process involved in a childs growth and in building stronger muscles.
Hormones act as messengers, telling your body what functions to perform. They trigger anabolism and catabolism.
Catabolic hormones are often activated under stress, such as when you have a fight-or-flight response. They include:
The anabolic hormones are responsible for growth and tissue repair. They include:
A lot of uncontrollable factors, including age, gender and genetics, direct your metabolism. But, says DiMarino, you can positively influence hormones that play a role in anabolism and catabolism with these healthy habits:
Catabolism functions no matter what you give your body, states DiMarino. It breaks down food, whether its junky or nutritious. Whatever it doesnt use for energy now, it stores for later (hello, extra pounds).
But anabolism is entirely different. It only functions properly when youre getting enough nutrients through foods like vegetables, fruits and lean meats. Your body needs high-quality building blocks to heal, repair and grow.
Different types of exercise are considered anabolic or catabolic, depending on whether they use energy to build or break down something.
Theres been a lot of research on the best type of exercise for weight loss. Cardiovascular workouts (catabolic) are great for burning a lot of calories quickly. But weight-bearing exercises (anabolic) produce an afterburn effect using more calories over a longer period to repair muscles, reports DiMarino. What weve found is that doing a combination of anabolic and catabolic workouts is most effective.
Anabolism and catabolism are both crucial parts of your metabolism. They fuel your everyday activities, from jogging to healing a paper cut. The best way to support those processes and boost your metabolism is to adopt healthy habits. That way, youll be in the best shape to deal with whatever life throws your way.