The Running Chemistry

The Running ChemistryThe chemistry involved in long distance running is quite complex and this differentiates humans from apes according to some scientists. Running is also a key factor in human development although it may look as a simple process. Humans are terrible sprinters compared to other animals but happened to be great in distance running. What separates humans than apes are their long legs, increased sweating capability and their shock resistant. According to scientists, the distance running has caused human evolution to look differently than primates.

Many different chemicals are involved for the muscles to work. Carbohydrates and fats are used when running. These are the fuels that are very important to muscles. 60% of calories are coming from carbohydrates which are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.  During metabolism, the organic molecules are broken into glucose and represented by the chemical equation C6H12O6 + 6 O2 6 CO2 + 6 H2O + energy. Glucose and fructose are the 2 most common carbohydrates. They are sugars that are found in pasta, bread, rice and other foods. Although both structures are different, both glucose and fructose are structural isomers and have same chemical formula of  C6H12O6.

Besides glucose which is stored in the human body and also fructose which is found commonly in fruit, there are also other types of sugars that is a bonding of these two.  Glucose and fructose are sugars with one unit that is also termed as monosaccharides. Sucrose which is a bonding of fructose and glucose molecules are a two molecules unit. Because of the 2 molecules it possesses, they are also called disaccharide where ‘di’ represents double. Polysaccharides are also other types of carbohydrates. They are polymers of the simple sugars and are complex. For example, potatoes have starch which is a glucose polymer. The potatoes which contain starch when eaten will be processed and the bonds between the glucose will be broken down by an enzyme called amylase and the glucose will be absorbed into the bloodstream. The sugar will be stored inside the body as glycogen when needed. The body will locate the glycogen from the liver or the muscle tissue and convert it into Adenosine Tri-phosphate (ATP). This will be the energy  used by the body for running or doing some other activities.

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For other source of energy, there are fats or also called lipids. Consider lipids as energy reserves when carbohydrates runs out of energy. Carbohydrates converts energy much faster than fats but the later can produce more energy than carbohydrates.  Triglycerides are the type of fats that gets converted into energy. Lipolysis is a process where the triglycerides are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids. Then, the glycerol is converted into pyruvic acid and later acetyl CoA. During beta-oxidation, the fatty acids are converted into acetyl CoA before it enters the Krebs Cycle and broken down into carbon dioxide which will be exhaled from the lungs and hydrogen that will move to the electron transport chain. ATP are the result of a reaction from the hydrogen and the oxygen that forms water that produces excess energy.

ATP or Adenosine Tri-phosphate is a bonding of adenosine molecule and three phosphate molecules. These bond produces the energy for ATP. Energy is release, when the one of the phosphates bond breaks and becomes adenosine diphosphate where only 2 phosphates exist. When the other phosphates breaks off, leaving only 1 phosphate, it becomes adenosine monophosphate and releasing energy for the muscle. More energy is released as each bond breaks and this helps the muscle to get moving.

To release energy, the glycogen breaks down in the presence of oxygen. This happens during aerobic workouts like running and sometimes in longer races, the muscles will turn to anaerobic fuel storages when the aerobic fuel has run out. When runners feel a burning sensation in their legs, this is what is happening to them. Glycosis is a process when glucose beaks down to release energy. Without the presence of oxygen, anaerobic occurs and can cause some production of byproducts. Without oxygen, th glucose is only able to partially break down. It turns to pyruvic acid that releases energy to create ATP. Some of the pyruvic acid will turn into acid and hydrogen atoms that may add to the muscles. The addition causes the muscles to become more acidic and stops the muscles from performing well due to cell destruction caused by too much acidity.

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Get enough nutrients before and after running or workouts. Eating after workouts will help in muscles recovery and glycogen replenishment. Sports drink which contain glycogen produce sugars like fructose, glucose and sucrose are common among runners. They are also good in replacing sodium lost in sweat. Hyponatremia is a condition where sodium is found low and not replaced caused by prolonged exercise. It can cause seizures, fluid in the lungs, respiratory arrest and even death. To make sure that enough sodium are available in the blood, marathoners should drink sodium contained sports drinks.

Solutions of ions such as sodium, potassium, calcium, hydrogen carbonate, phosphate, magnesium and chloride are electrolytes that can be found inside sports drinks. Electrolytes are used by cells to carry electrical impulses to other cells. For some other electrolytes like calcium, sodium and potassium, they are necessary for muscle contraction.

An easy way to get carbohydrates are energy gels which contain simple and complex carbohydrates. They are mixed with a little bit of water and have high concentration of calories. These calories are crucial for optimal performance in calorie burning for energy.

To become a better runner, it is very useful to know how the muscles work and gets the energy. It is easier to get faster and making the muscles perform at peak level, if runners know the types of carbohydrates and fats needed by the body. This in turn will help current runners break records and get faster times. Previously, runners are not encouraged not to drink while competing and this proved wrong by scientists. Dehydration is not an option and if these athletes were to improve their endurance and performance they should know what is best for them. The muscles should have the right fuels and like a good engine, faster times and overall better running can be achieved by supplying them with carbohydrates and fats that is required.

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4 Responses

  1. Collagen Gel says:

    It’s amazing that all of this stuff goes on in the background and the majority of people are totally oblivious (me included) to it taking place. The human body is highly complex, treat with care 🙂

  2. Mike says:

    Great article, Very informative and enjoyed reading. Love the comparison of humans to apes. I used to do long distance running and would love to get back to it though back problems and stopping me from doing this. Hopefully be fixed one day. It’s amazing what the human body is capable off.

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