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Exercising Without Oxygen

Friday, April 29, 2016

Try running as far as you can, as fast as you can — this is your anaerobic capacity. While this definition may be accurate, it’s far too simple for such an important concept. Jagruti Verma explains the how and why of anaerobic capacity

Our bodies synthesise ATP, a biomolecule that is crucial for energy transfer in living organisms, in one of two ways — aerobic, where the body uses oxygen; and anaerobic, where it doesn’t. In each case, the biochemical substrates (chemical molecules) involved in making ATP differ. The ability of an athlete — or anyone, for that matter — to be able to perform anaerobic exercises depends on their anaerobic capacity. Athletes improve their anaerobic capacity through training, and as they do this, their performance subsequently improves.

Sachin Rahate, head of strength and conditioning at the H.E.A.L. Institute, tells us, “Anaerobic capacity is your body’s capacity to run its systems without using oxygen, unlike aerobic capacity, where your body uses oxygen as fuel. Anaerobic capacity refers to “without air” or “without oxygen”. The anaerobic phase is seen during a high intensity activity and cannot be sustained for over 2 to 3 minutes.”

Your anaerobic capacity helps you to push beyond your aerobic performance and give you that extra bit in a physical contest, so it is definitely important. Sachin explains how it can be improved. “High intensity intervals are the primary way to increase anaerobic capacity. In order to accomplish this, intervals need to be anywhere between 40 seconds to three minutes and must be performed at an intensity that can be barely maintained for the given time of each interval. Alternatively, you can use shorter intervals with less recovery time.”

And, if you were wondering why you should be bothered about your anaerobic capacity, Sachin explains, “Every individual, athlete or not needs to improve their anaerobic capacity. The more conditioned your anaerobic capacity is, the better equipped you are to perform sub-maximal tasks. High intensity interval training has proven to have a greater impact on cardiac health than long, slow aerobic training.”


  • It speeds up your metabolism and lowers your blood sugar.
  • It supports weight loss and tones your body.
  • It strengthens your muscles and bones, as well as your joints.
  • It increases energy levels and enhances sports performance.
  • Increasing your anaerobic capacity helps recapture your youth and improve your appearance.

Food for fitness
You can’t do anything without food of course. So, we asked Indrayani Pawar, the team lead dietician at Hinduja Healthcare Surgical in Khar, to share a few tips and tricks to getting the right nutrition if you want to increase your anaerobic capacity.

  • Anaerobic activities such as sprinting use the ATP-CP energy pathway mechanism. This basically means that it uses glucose to provide energy through a mechanism called glycolysis. In any anaerobic activity, the main fuel that your body uses is glycogen. To increase capacity of glycogen, you need to incorporate carbohydrates in your diet.
  • You can include a quick, carbohydrate-rich snack before the event, such as a fruit combined with curd, a vegetable sandwich, salads, baked potato, baked sweet potato and dates. Consuming foods that are high in glycemic index will help to replenish the used up glycogen stores in your system. You should include simple carbohydrates in your diet if your routine features anaerobic exercises.
  • Always hydrate yourself after this type of training, because it produces a lot of lactic acid. Hydrating helps you avoid muscle cramps due to the formation of lactic acid. You also need to consume proteins in good amounts to avoid losing muscle mass.
  • Your carbohydrate requirement varies for different anaerobic activities. Racket sports require 6-10g of carbohydrates and up to 1.2 to 1.4g of protein per day, for each kilogram of bodyweight. For high-intensity drills involving sprints and weightlifting, you need 4 to 7g of carbohydrates and up to 2g of protein per day for each kilogram of bodyweight.
  • The supplementation of creatine can also be helpful in generating ATP rapidly during such activities.


  • Sprint for 60 seconds/100m, then walk steadily or jog for 60 seconds/100m. Do this for at least 20 to 40 minutes at a stretch to achieve weight (fat) loss benefits.
  • You should also perform weight-training exercises in circuit formats, with lower recovery time. Don’t forget to consult fitness experts and a trainer who can help you design your high intensity, interval training plan.
  • Remember to include foods high in protein (nuts, fish, eggs, milk, low fat yogurt and cheese) and complex carbohydrates (green vegetables, whole grains, food made from whole grains such as oatmeal, pasta and whole grain bread, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkin, beans, lentils and peas) in your daily diet to develop and maintain anaerobic capacity. This diet will help you build lean muscle and get rid of fat.
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