There are many ways to look at energy in the body. At its most basic, energy is the capacity to do work. For many people, this does not mean just their daily career or projects around the house, but also exercise and recreation. Consumers in the sports nutrition category are unrelenting in their pursuit of any boost to energy that can fuel better, longer and more productive exercise. Energy supplements, drinks and other products are wildly popular and contain any number of ingredients, including many sources of caffeine and other stimulants. However, there is a difference between perceived energy from hormonal stimulation and true energy, which happens on a cellular level and requires fuel from the diet.
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, just transferred, so the energy production process in the body involves cycles of releasing and restoring energy. This process centers on adosine triphosphate (ATP), a nucleotide that stores chemical energy in its terminal phosphate bonds. When the bonds are broken, energy is released. ATP is created by several processes, both aerobic and anaerobic, within cells of the body, including skeletal muscle and organs. Certain dietary supplement ingredients, including carnitine, coenzyme Q10, creatine, ribose and magnesium, are directly involved in ATP production and restoration and are, thus, ideal candidates for natural products targeting increases in true energy production. Still other ingredients, including certain amino acids and nitrate-rich botanicals, can support the substrates and preparation processes for ATP creation and restoration.
Many energy products contain stimulants, which mostly offer perceived energy through hormonal activation of alertness and stress, but these can stress the adrenal glands and cardiovascular system under chronic use. Still, not all stimulants are dangerous, as bitter orange does not activate the adrenal receptors that can cause dangerous problems with blood pressure and heart rate. And, stimulants may offer minor benefits to energy production and balance in the body.
In simple terms, energy balance is the ratio of calories in to calories out. Thermogenics activate hormones that break down fats into compounds that ordinarily are used to make ATP. However, in one type of fat storage tissue called brown adipose, this breakdown of fats is instead fuel for reactions that release energy in the form of heat. This is a great mechanism for weight management and can complement formulas aimed at true energy production.
This special Digital Issue: Sports Nutrition Energy looks at the biochemical processes involved in true energy production and details the mechanisms of action behind natural ingredients that influence energy production on a cellular level. There is also a discussion of the pros and cons of stimulants in sports nutrition energy formulas, as well as a prospective on the role of thermogenesis in energy balance.