Anabolism vs Catabolism: What’s the Difference?

Anabolism and Catabolism are two faces of the metabolism process. One of them takes care of muscle building and growth while the other one is in charge of breaking down the food into molecules to convert them into the energy needed for physical activities. Here, you will learn the difference plus use them to improve your training sessions for losing fat and building lean muscle more effectively

Catabolism and Anabolism are two terms with which many bodybuilders, athletes, doctors, dietitians, sports, and gym enthusiasts are familiar.

This happens because both processes are the main factors that affect the way our bodies process food, convert them into energy and create lean muscle mass, burn those annoying extra pounds, or make us bigger and stronger.

As major influencers of the metabolism process, it is important to learn and understand clearly their role in our bodies, so you can decide which are your fitness goals and create a personalized diet and exercising or training routines to achieve them.

But first,

What is metabolism?

Metabolism is the body process made by all living organisms to keep their bodies well fed and up to day.

Made up of a set of physical and chemical processes that aid your body to convert food intake into the energy or materials needed for all the important functions that our organism makes day to day.

An example of that is to keep and maintain muscle and bone tissues, as well as to produce the needed hormones to preserve your whole organism working as it should be.

Our bodies need the energy to make everything that will keep us alive and healthy. From thinking to breathing and growing, metabolism is responsible for our bodies’ overall maintenance.

However, to make all these happen smoothly and effectively, it needs a set of processes.

These processes, mostly known as biochemical pathways are Anabolism and Catabolism.

These set of activities happen at the same time, thus making metabolism a balancing act between the two.

On one hand, it builds up body tissues and stores the spare energy (Anabolism), and on the other, it breaks down body tissues and uses the stored energy to fuel the body for the daily challenges (Catabolism).

Next, we will understand both processes more deeply and how they affect your fitness goals:

What is Anabolism?

Also known as constructive metabolism, is mainly centered on growing and building body tissues as well as energy storage.

Put it simply, is the process of organizing molecules.

As one of the sides of metabolism, it is involved in creating larger and more complex molecules of protein, carbs, and fats from the small molecules – such as amino acids, cells, or nutrients –  obtained from the digestion process bonding them together.

The best example of an anabolism process is when your body tries to heal from a cut. It quickly begins to add tissue and other structures around that cut to start the restorative process.

What is Catabolism?

Known as destructive metabolism as well, it involves breaking down bigger and more complex molecules – coming from fats, proteins, or tissues – into smaller and simpler ones – such as cells or fatty acids -.

This step produces the energy needed for all the activities that your organism does daily by breaking down cells – like stored fat and carbs – to fuel the several processes occurring in your body, such as anabolism, movement, and body temperature.

The best example of catabolism is digestion.

When you eat food, your digestive system breaks them down into smaller molecules – for example, a loaf of bread can be broken down into glucose -.

This mechanism is important to keep your organism functioning smoothly and up to date every day. So, if you are not consuming the food and nutrients needed for your body to function properly, catabolism will start breaking down your lean muscle and stored fat for your daily energy requirements.

How do hormones affect anabolism and catabolism? 

A different set of hormones is activated and needed to perform both anabolism and catabolism functions.

They act as messengers and tell your body when it’s time to trigger anabolism or catabolism functions.

Anabolism-related hormones are the ones responsible for tissue growth, maintenance, and repair, which means they are the same ones used to potentiate several sports, including bodybuilding and athlete performance:

  • Estrogen
  • Testosterone
  • Insulin
  • Growth Hormone

On the other hand, the catabolism process is linked with the stress response of our system, mostly known as the fight-or-flight response. As you will see, some of them are the same ones released when performing a strenuous physical activity for athletic performance:

  • Adrenaline
  • Cytokines
  • Glucagon
  • Cortisol

Any possible imbalance in the availability of these hormones in your organism will affect your physical and performance outcome.

As it was shown in a study made on a small group of bodybuilders, calorie restrictions may accelerate the loss of stored fat and muscle mass, as well as growth and insulin hormones blood concentration. More importantly, these results remained the same even after consuming high levels of protein – via shakes or other supplements -.

These outcomes – widely known as the catabolic breakdown effect – may be negative for professional performers, especially before competition.

The researchers then advised bodybuilders to find other ways to avoid this potential negative outcome; which is why professional and high elite athletes opt for more alternatives to keep their metabolism working as needed, in the form of steroid cycling.

How do anabolism and catabolism affect your body weight? 

Depending on your fitness goals – losing weight, gaining more muscle and strength – you need to understand how anabolism and catabolism affect your overall body weight.

If your main goal is to shed some extra kilos, perhaps the most effective way is to restrict your calorie intake, thus maximizing the possible consequences of the catabolic breakdown effect explained before.

This way, you will be forcing your body to lose weight by using the stored fat and lean muscle to convert them into energy.

In contrast, if you want to gain more lean muscle mass – that may translate to gaining extra weight – you need to put your body into an anabolic state.

This means that you will craft a personalized plan that includes a balanced diet, proper supplementation, and steroid implementation to maximize your body’s anabolic properties to create lean muscle mass while acquiring more strength.

It is very important to note what experts say:

Catabolism functions will maintain no matter what you eat. Whether is junky or nutritious food, they will be broken down and used – or stored –. This way, you can gain weight in stored fat if you have a poor diet and exercise routine.

Conversely, anabolism functions will only appear if you are eating healthy and balanced enough to get your body the nutrients needed for cell repair, maintenance, and growth. This way, you will need to create a diet filled with proteins, healthy fats, veggies, and legumes as well as add some supplementation such as amino acids or steroids if your goal is to get a ripped and stronger body.

Then, you need to keep in mind these considerations to adequate your routine in order to reach your physique goals.

How can I control my metabolism? 

As we learned before, one way to effectively control your metabolism is through your food intake.

Nonetheless, there are several ways to positively influence your body to release the needed hormones for anabolism or catabolism. Here are some of them:

  • Practice a good sleeping routine: rest at least seven hours every night
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Limit alcohol, tobacco, and drug use
  • Eat high-quality proteins and fats, as well as good carbohydrates
  • Add supplementation if needed: amino acids, growth hormones, testosterone, or carnitine, to keep your metabolism on fire
  • Create a training routine for your gym sessions to maximize anabolic or catabolic benefits

What’s better for gaining muscle and strength: anabolic or catabolic workouts? 

There are several types of workouts that can maximize the anabolic or catabolic effects in your organism.

They are commonly divided by the name of the biological function they trigger or enhance.

This way, you will find two types of exercises: anabolic and catabolic.

Anabolic exercises

 They involve any type of weight lifting activities such as pushups, squats, presses, pull-ups, and deadlifts.

They use less oxygen and energy than catabolic exercises – although you don’t feel that way – and promote greater protein synthesis, and make your body focus its energy use on repairing muscle tissue and strengthening it.

Intense workouts that involve heavy weightlifting with a proper diet and supplementation will boost your anabolic state, which translates into having more anabolic hormones available for muscle growth and strength while keeping catabolic-related hormones at bay.

Keeping your anabolic state will require the use of nutrient timing – eating protein every three hours in the form of meals or supplements – before and after intense workout sessions to stimulate muscle protein synthesis as well as the use of anabolic steroids such as Anavar.

Catabolic exercises

Here you will find aerobic or cardio activities such as swimming, biking, or running a marathon that will keep your energy expense at steady levels, thus encouraging your body to burn the stored fat when glycogen levels are depleted.

This happens because they demand more oxygen and energy while being practiced than the anabolic workouts, hence burning more glucose and fat during the activity.

Its routine practice will help you to shed extra pounds if needed or, in combination with anabolic workouts, keep the stored fat at bay for upcoming competitions.