Many people have read in magazines that long-distance cardiovascular exercise will break down muscle. Personal trainers have said that the body will use the protein in muscle as an energy source during long-distance training. Are these statements the same? No. Are they scientifically accurate? Yes and No.
During cardiovascular exercise, the body will use glucose (carbohydrates) as the main energy source. The body will use fat as a secondary energy source. The body rarely, if ever, breaks down protein and uses it as an energy source.
The breaking down of body tissues is known as a catabolic process. For instance, if fat is to be used as an energy source, a fat cell is broken down into a fatty acid and glycerol. The glycerol can then be used for energy. Proteins, within the muscle, have to be broken down into peptide chains, then into amino acids and finally into glucose for energy.
The nature of aerobic activity is catabolic. The main goal is to break down and burn fat. During this, the body will also seek to drop weight. The densest cells in the body are muscles. The body will seek to break down the muscles, not as much for an energy source, but to lighten the load – like a movie where an airplane is desperately trying to fly. The goal of this catabolic process is NOT to use protein as an energy source.
The nature of weight training is anabolic. Anabolic is the opposite of catabolic. Anabolic processes build. The goal is for the liver to release essential amino acids to be delivered via the blood to the muscles. The amino acids are built into peptide chains, which are built into the proteins that comprise muscles.
Long-distance running after a strength workout negates this process. Sprinting will cause an anabolic process whereas long-distance running causes a catabolic process.
A workout program should not call for concurrent long-distance training and muscle-building weight training in the same day. A muscle-building program should consist of sprinting and plyometric-type training. These workouts go hand-in-hand.
Aerobic training, for health, should be completed once or twice a week, depending on training volume. If the workout program demands two or three days of muscle-building workouts, complete two. If the workout program demands four or more days of muscle-building workouts, one day is sufficient.
On the other hand, endurance athletes should use long-distance aerobic training combined with functional weight training. This will decrease the risk of injury by focusing on joint stabilization and muscle imbalances. Circuit weight training has been shown to increase VO2 max as well. Weight training for aerobic goals should be performed twice a week.
Long-distance aerobic training usually will not use muscle as an energy source, but it can hinder muscle hypertrophy (building). If hypertrophy is the goal, aerobic conditioning should be very light and completed on an off day.
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