Energy Systems Used When Running

Updated on April 10, 2017
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist as well as being a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

Details of the Major Energy Systems

Whether we are at rest or running our body needs to create energy for our muscles and to allow our living systems to power chemical reactions required to maintain the body's functions.

The single unit of energy which is used for these reactions is adenosine triphosphate. Often referred to as ATP, Adenosine triphosphate is the energy currency the body uses to pay for such reactions.

The 3 Key Energy Systems for Running

There are three key energy pathways for running. These are often described as energy systems.

  1. The Aerobic System
  2. The Anaerobic / Lactic Acid System
  3. The Creatine Phosphate System (ATP-CP)

What energy systems are you using while running?
What energy systems are you using while running? | Source

How Adenosine Triphosphate Creates Energy for Running

Adenosine triphosphate creates energy for the body while running through splitting. It is made up from three molecules of phosphate (hence the 'tri') held together tightly together by high-energy bonds. By breaking part of this bond a large amount of energy can be released to provide energy for muscular contractions and other body systems while running. The reaction removes one phosphate molecule to leave Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and a separate phosphate molecule

Unfortunately the body does not have an unlimited supply of adenosine triphosphate. In fact only about 4 seconds worth of ATP is stored at any one point within the body and therefore resynthesis has to occur. The harder you run the more ATP is required and the more resynthesis has to occur.

The reaction of creating energy from ATP for running occurs in the mitochondria of muscle cells.

The Aerobic Energy Pathway

Aerobically the body can create energy for running through the use of glucose and fats in the presence of oxygen. This is known as aerobic glycolysis.

The aerobic energy system is primarily used in distance running. Typically running events such as the 10km to ultra-marathon events are run aerobically.

  • Creating aerobic energy for running using glucose:

Aerobic glycolysis allows the body to produce 38 molecules of ATP for every molecule of oxygen through the use of glucose in the presence of oxygen. The downside of this is that glucose is taken from the body's glycogen stores. The body slowly moves away from solely creating energy using glycogen to using fat as well as this is more abundant in the body.

  • Creating aerobic energy for running using fat:

After several minutes of exercise the body begins to use it's fat stores to create the energy required for running. In the presence of glucose and oxygen the body is able to create energy from our fat stores in the mitochondria of muscle cells

Sadly the body does not have an endless supply of glucose and our stores can deplete rapidly as shown by marathon runners hitting the wall as they can no longer effectively create the energy required to power their running muscles.

You can consider taking in additional carbohydrates on long distance runs to top up and maintain your glycogen stores.

The Anaerobic Energy System for Running

The anaerobic energy system (sometimes known as the Lactic Acid system) uses the body's glucose stores, however without the presence of oxygen.

At moderately high intensiies the body is unable to take in enough oxygen to maintain aerobic energy production and therefore has to switch to anaerobic energy production for running.

The anaerobic energy system creates energy for running while producing a waste product in the form of Lactic Acid which can lead to inhibited muscle contraction. Therefore the lactic acid pathway can only be maintained for short periods of time of up to 3 minutes.

The Anaerobic Energy system for running is primarily used in events such as the 400 and 800 meters.

The Creatine Phosphate Energy System

Often known as the ATP-CR system, PCr System and the phosphocreatine energy system.

As our stores if ATP (adenosine triphosphate) can only last for a few seconds the body needs a back-up system which can re-synthesize ATP from ADP almost immediately.

The creatine phosphate system creates energy for running without the presence of oxygen or glucose through the use of the phosphate molecules from creatine phosphate. The downside of this is that one molecule of ATP is produced from every one molecule of creatine phosphate.

In terms of running events the creatine phosphate energy system is used within the 100m sprint as we can only maintain this energy system for around 10 seconds.

Test Your Knowledge on Running Energy Systems

view quiz statistics

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      5 months ago

      nice one lads


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)