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ATP stands for Adenosine Tri Phosphate, which as any sports science student will know, is the primary molecule used to transfer energy in cells. It’s a fast-acting and easily depleted during movement and activity but is recycled rapidly with the aid of phosphocreatine.

In today’s article we’re going to look at evidenced-based approaches to ATP re-synthesis. We’ll see if it’s possible to make training and nutrition adjustments to maximise our use and replenishment of the molecule. Maximising ATP use and replenishment should lead to an improvement of physical performance and capability.


Time to read: 6 minutes

Intermediate - Expert

Key Points:

  • Increasing available ATP
  • Performance improvements in line with ATP
  • Training approaches to maximise energy system development
  • Nutritional approaches to aiding ATP recycling
  • ATP and sports performance

ATP is the primary molecule used to transfer energy in cells, but it depletes rapidly during high intensity exercise. In this article we look at evidence-based approaches to improving ATP re-synthesis and therefore, sporting performance...



Increasing available ATP

Research suggests that we use and recycle the equivalent of our body weight in ATP every single day [1]. During periods of extreme high intensity exercise, this is likely to be significantly higher give ATP’s role in energy transfer and muscle contraction.

Given ATP is the currency by which energy transfer in cells occurs, it’s logical to first see if we can increase the amount of available ATP we have in our bodies. Research shows that it’s not possible to simply increase per-mass available ATP through training alone [2].

Despite that though, there is another approach that we can take to increase ATP levels. By increasing the amount of skeletal muscle mass through training, we automatically increase available ATP [3]. This approach must be carefully considered though because in many sports additional body mass can impact performance.

Where additional muscle mass is an advantage however, it makes sense to add it. More muscle means more anaerobic capacity and an improvement in high intensity exercise capabilities.

Performance improvements in line with ATP capacity

The improvement in muscle mass has positive implications neurally too, which helps to stave off fatigue slightly longer [4]. The doubling-up effect coming from improved muscle mass contributing to more available ATP, plus neural adaptions caused by prolonged resistance training combine to enhance fatigue-resistance.

Maintaining fatigue resistance for longer is a key element of high performance, which will benefit a whole host of high intensity physical attributes. By increasing muscle mass (and ATP availability by consequence), you’ll likely improve strength, strength endurance, power, jumping and speed as well. You’ll be a better, more capable athlete as a result.

Training approaches to maximise energy system development

Whilst a blanket recommendation is impossible here, simply because all sports have different physical requirements, research has been done looking at maximising energy system (and ATP) development for sports. It’s here we begin to look at work:rest ratios for athletes depending on the energy system being trained and how this impacts the particular nuances of the sport [5].

When we consider ATP training in particular, work intensity and length of rest periods take on a very significant importance.

Although the ATP/PC system energy system is only active during short, explosive bursts, it is utilised in all kinds of sports. What the research shows is that to maximise the effectiveness of the ATP/PC system, we must include frequent maximum strength and power training in the physical preparation of the athletes [6]. The intensity should be high, with heavy loads, few repetitions and rest periods lasting 3-5 minutes.

Nutritional approaches to aiding ATP recycling

Nutritionally there appears to be benefit in supplementation for high intensity exercise performance. The International Society of Sports Nutrition agrees that the evidence in support of creatine use for aiding high intensity exercise is sufficiently strong [7], so endorses the use.

Direct evidence of the ATP resynthesis boost provided by supplemental creatine can be found from a study done in 2000, where researchers concluded that ‘loss of ATP during heavy anaerobic exercise was found to decline after creatine ingestion, despite an increase in work production. These results suggest that improvements in performance are due to parallel improvements in ATP resynthesis during exercise as a consequence of increased phosphocreatine availability.’ [8].

Creatine is also linked with increasing fat-free mass [9], which as we discussed earlier can have a positive effect on athletic performance.

ATP and sports performance – the bottom line

It’s clear that an efficient alactic anaerobic system is a huge benefit in high intensity sports. The faster our bodies can replenish ATP stores, the more force we can generate and maintain for longer.

In this article we’ve looked at various ways this can be achieved, with the most effective being increasing muscle mass, utilising periods of high intensity resistance and sprint training, and the targeted use of supplemental creatine.

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