Nutrients and The Human Energy System

I hope you don’t think I’m trying to moralize about nutrition. I like to talk about the body and the way it moves, and there is an interrelationship between what you eat and how much energy you have for living.

Most people have at least a vague understanding of the importance of a balanced diet, or the need to supply your body with the right amount of fuel and essential nutrients to match your day-to-day energy expenditure and wear and tear repair.

Most people would also be familiar with the words vitamins and minerals. If you’re a regular reader you would have a bit more information on the roles of vitamins and minerals in daily metabolism.

Nutrients are also vitally involved in the operation of the human energy system. You don’t just need fuels, you need a myriad of other substances to initiate, regulate, and recover from energy production in your working muscles.

It really is amazing to think about the complexity of the human energy systems. What’s even more amazing is that they work so well for so long, considering the abuse some people subject their bodies to when they exercise.

Today I’m going to fill you in on the way your body uses nutrients in energy production. We’ll forget about the fuels (carbohydrates and fats) for a while, and concentrate on the enzymes and minerals.

Fats and carbohydrates are the basic fuels that are broken down to release the energy to charge up the batteries of your muscles, called adenosine triphosphates, or ATP.

However, this ability to get at the energy from foods we eat would not be present if it wasn’t for the involvement of the other major nutrients of your diet — proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. All these nutrients work together to create enzymes that are active in the release of energy for muscle contraction.


Water is vital for proper bodily function. Rivers of water flush through your arteries and veins all the time. As the water surges through your body it transports nutrients to the working muscles, and waste products away for re-processing or disposal.

The elements of water, hydrogen, and oxygen are also used extensively when compounds need to be broken down and transformed. This process is known as hydrolysis, which simply means adding water.

Vitamins and Proteins

Vitamins are involved in almost every metabolic process of the human body. These metabolic processes are greatly increased when you exercise, so an adequate supply of body vitamins is vital to allow you to exercise to your potential without fatigue or injury.

Vitamins need to be processed before they become useful in regulating your basic physiological processes. Generally, they combine with a protein molecule to form an enzyme. An enzyme initiates or regulates a chemical process without participating in the chemical reaction. Enzymes are not used up in chemical reactions, but they may deteriorate over time and be broken down for scrap.

Because they are being worn out all the time, you need a constant fresh supply. Some can be produced by your body, but others, the essential nutrients, must be obtained through your diet.

Some of the vitamins that are involved in energy production in your muscle cells are niacin and thiamine. These vitamins are essential in the breakdown of muscle glycogen to recharge ATP.

Another vitamin you might be familiar with is riboflavin. This vitamin is essential for the proper functioning of your aerobic energy system. Without it, ATP just can’t be formed from the energy released from carbohydrates and fats.

A number of other B group vitamins are involved in energy production in your muscle cells. Vitamins are often called the organic regulators because they are transformed into enzymes within your body.

You cannot just whack vitamins into your body and expect your performance to magically increase. Because of this, I’m a bit wary about using vitamin supplements, as you need all the right parts to make enzymes, not just the vitamins.


A mineral is usually an element that is solid at normal temperatures. Nutritionists use the term to describe the inorganic elements that are essential to life.

Minerals serve three general functions:

  • as building blocks or cement to strengthen bones, teeth, muscles, and other organic structures;
  • as components of enzymes;
  • and as small particles carrying an electrical charge known as ions.

Minerals can be obtained in your diet from plants and animals, as well as dissolved in water.

I’ve already talked about how iron is used to carry oxygen around the body in the blood and in the muscles in different forms of hemoglobin. Other minerals such as sodium and potassium are used as ions with different electrical charges to initiate and control single muscle cell contractions. Minerals are often called the inorganic regulators and they cannot be produced by your body.

So do not just think about the volume of fats and carbohydrates in your diet. Look into whether your diet is adequate in the regulatory nutrients as well — water, vitamins, and minerals.

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