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Anabolic VS catabolic: what's the difference?

Anabolic VS catabolic: what's the difference?


Bodybuilders often use terms that make no sense to the average person. The world of fitness and bodybuilding is a world apart, with its own jargon when it comes to training and nutrition. Of course, most of the terms used come from science. But these people often don't know exactly what they're talking about, and that can lead to a lot of confusion.

Two terms are frequently used: anabolism and catabolism. Let's take a closer look.

Anabolism vs. catabolism

The aim of bodybuilding is to build muscle and avoid losing it. In scientific terms, this means maximizing anabolic muscle building and minimizing catabolic muscle loss.

Basically, anabolic means "to build" and catabolic means "to break down". Anabolism and catabolism are the two sides of the metabolism that manages numerous processes.

Visit anabolic metabolism builds new muscles. To do this, our bodies use proteins and amino acids, and burn energy. Certain hormones naturally produced by the body are involved in muscle building and are used to manage energy and muscle production. The best-known anabolic hormones are testosterone, growth hormone, IGF1, estrogen and insulin.

Visit catabolic metabolism breaks down our muscles and releases energy. It's a useful mechanism for the body when it needs energy.

For example, the muscles of a marathon runner can provide energy from protein, when glycogen reserves are depleted. This is known as muscle cannibalism. The body draws from the muscles to feed itself. Of course, if you feed to replace lost energy, muscle breakdown to provide fuel will be minimized. Marathon runners eat regularly during exercise, above all to perform well, but this also has the advantage of preserving muscle mass.

As with anabolism, certain hormones are involved in catabolism. Catabolic hormones include cortisol, adrenalin, catecholamines and glucagon. These hormones can have catabolic effects by making energy available, but do not necessarily break down muscle.

How to maximize anabolism and minimize catabolism ?

Anabolism is therefore an essential process for bodybuilders. After all, it's what's needed to build bigger, stronger muscles. The aim is therefore to try and tip the metabolic balance from catabolism to anabolism, to place the body in a state favorable to muscle growth.

But don't think of catabolism as something bad that must be got rid of at all costs. It's essential for the body to function. And for bodybuilding, it's necessary because you need to destroy your muscles so that they can be rebuilt bigger and stronger. Anabolism and catabolism are two processes which depend on each other, and which don't go together like yin and yang.

So how do you promote anabolism ?

For anabolism to occur, you need a trigger such as intense strength training, energy and building materials with protein and calories from the diet, enough sleep and hormones at adequate levels. If this is the case, everything goes smoothly and you build muscle.


The problem arises when catabolism becomes excessive and exceeds anabolism. In fact, certain factors can contribute to excessive catabolism, such as overtraining, lack of recovery (overtraining) and rest, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and stress.

It's up to you to put in place all the above conditions to maximize your muscle gains.

What about anabolic steroids ?

You've probably seen reports of professional bodybuilders training in the gym several times a day, doing endless hours of cardio while following a strict diet. You're probably wondering how this is possible, how they manage to maintain or even gain muscle under these conditions. Are they immune to muscle catabolism?

Actually, they don't. How do they keep up? They simply use anabolic steroids to minimize catabolism. There's no other secret.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic variants of testosterone that mimic the effects of the natural anabolic hormones produced by your body. If you load up on these products, you can stay in an anabolic state longer and build muscle in less favorable situations, such as overtraining or dieting.

On the other hand, there is a downside. Taking steroids can cause a host of undesirable side effects (1), some of which are irreversible and sometimes fatal.

And the anabolic window: myth or reality ?

" I've only got 30 minutes to swallow it! After that, the anabolic window will close forever ! ".

Haven't you ever noticed those gym-goers in the locker room who pounce on their post-training whey shaker right after training? Many athletes believe in the so-called "anabolic window". This term describes the 2-3 hours immediately following a training session. The theory is that all food consumed during this period is used by the muscles to fuel anabolism. Eating after exercise is therefore crucial to building muscle, and if you miss this moment, your gains will suffer dramatically.


While the anabolic window theory makes some sense, studies have shown that it doesn't exist (2) and that you won't hurt your progress if you don't eat right after exercise. The condition? You need to eat enough throughout the day and consume enough calories. If you do, you'll gain muscle.

However, if it's convenient to eat soon after your workout, there's no reason not to. Appetite often returns, and it's not uncommon to devour.

What supplements should I use to combat catabolism ?

First and foremost, your body needs calories and macronutrients to grow. Before you think about supplements, you need to eat enough and provide your body with the energy and nutrients to fuel the anabolic process.

Then, you can supplement and use certain supplements. The aim is to help minimize catabolism and/or improve anabolism. The most effective are not numerous: creatine, whey protein powder, ZMA (Zinc and Magnesium), vitamin D and various testosterone boosters.

Coach's conclusion

Anabolism and catabolism are opposite sides of the same coin. You can't have one without the other. However, if catabolism exceeds anabolism, you'll find yourself losing rather than gaining muscle.

Use the information in this article to maximize anabolism while limiting catabolism to the minimum necessary to trigger muscle growth. Your workouts will be much more productive.

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AuthorAlexandre CARPENTIER

Bodybuilding Champion N.A.C 2012

Alexandre shares his bodybuilding experience with MegaGear blog readers

Posted in: Bodywork