What separates the grain from the chaff?


Think of the body as a machine, where the muscles are the engine. The muscles require a constant delivery of fuel (carbs and fats) and oxygen to burn the fuel. The blood transports the fuel and oxygen to the muscles.

The heart acts as a fuel pump, sending nutrient-rich blood and oxygen into the tissues and bringing back metabolic wastes, including CO2.

Mr. Huzefa Talib, co-owner of Bangalore-based The Outfit gym, tells bodyLIFE there are several components involved in the body’s energy systems.

He is among a handful of certified strength and conditioning specialists in India, with certification from the National School of Strength and Conditioning in the US. His training involved principles and practice of sports: posture, techniques, progression, nutrition, sleep, rehabilitation, and doping.

He has been training professional sportsmen in golf, cricket and swimming, with a six-week programme for full-body conditioning. But he insists on an “all clear” from the athlete’s doctor and physiotherapist, so as to understand the nature of the athlete’s deficiencies and injuries.

Huzefa then checks the athlete’s mobility and flexibility, to determine his/her training needs. This is followed by a 5-day skills training module. Setting the goals and duration of the training comes next. As a specialist, it is his job to train and motivate his athlete to the next level of sports performance.

Needless to say, conditioning differs from sport to sport. “By and large basketball is among the most demanding sport: players are sprinting, jumping, changing directions continuously,” Huzefa observes. Football and boxing would also come in this category. A marathoner and swimmer, on the other hand, have different energy needs and would require different conditioning.


VO2 Max

So what really is “conditioning”? Huzefa defines it as repeating actions without losing power, and attributes it to building an efficient energy system. This can happen through training in two ways: increasing VO2 max and achieving quick lactic clearance.

An athlete’s maximum oxygen uptake can determine his/her capacity to perform sustained exercise and is linked to aerobic endurance. VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilise during intense or maximal exercise. It is measured as “ml of oxygen used in 1 minute per kg of body weight”.

The more oxygen the athlete can use during high-level exercise, the more energy s/he can produce. An athlete’s oxygen consumption rises with exercise intensity, but only up to a point. The point at which oxygen consumption plateaus, even if the exercise intensity increases, marks the V02 max.

“Intense and short-duration activity, such as a sprint, utilises the athlete’s muscle glycogen, which is anaerobic energy,” Huzefa clarifies. “A long distance runner or swimmer, on the other hand, would depend on oxygen (aerobic) for his/her energy supply.”


Lactate Clearance

The other energy system originates from lactate, a by-product of glucose utilisation by muscle cells under aerobic conditions. “But lactate is not a waste product. It is the most important new glucose generator in the body! Type II muscle fibres use lots of glucose which results in the production of high amounts of lactate.”

This can cause a decrease in muscle contraction capacity, resulting in maximum muscle shortening velocity and performance. With training, however, athletes can enhance lactate clearance capacity. Well trained athletes export less lactate to the blood as they clear it in higher amounts right in the lactate producing muscle, which takes seconds.

“Lactate clearance discriminates the most between different levels of athletic performance. Lactate analysis can give us a lot of information on muscle metabolism during exercise,” says Huzefa, adding that over a period of time, he would like add such measurement devices in his fitness centre.


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