Glycogen is an important molecule in the body. (Image via Unsplash / National Cancer Institute)

Understanding The Role of Glycogen In Diet And Exercise

Glycogen is one of the most important molecules in your body. It's a storage form of glucose that provides energy for your cells, and it can be found in both animals and plants.

Understanding how glycogen works on a biochemical level will help you understand how your body works at its most basic level. However, there are also practical fitness applications to learn from this knowledge too.


What is Glycogen?

Glycogen is a form of stored carbohydrates that the body uses for energy. It's a major source of energy for the body, especially during exercise and intense physical activity. Glycogen is stored primarily in muscle tissue and the liver.


Most people store enough glycogen to provide their bodies with energy for several hours after eating. For example, one teaspoon of sugar can supply about 100 calories of fuel.

It is used by muscles when they need extra energy because it can be quickly converted into glucose (blood sugar), which makes up most of our body’s fuel supply.

one teaspoon of sugar can supply about 100 calories of fuel. (Image via Pexels / Mali Maeder)

When you eat food that contains carbohydrates such as pasta or bread, some carbs are turned into glucose and stored between meals as glycogen. As a result, you’re ready when hunger strikes again later down the road (or after a hard workout).

This process helps keep blood sugar levels balanced for day-to-day activities so we don't feel sluggish from hunger pangs or lack mental clarity due to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).


Glycogen Production and Storage

You may be wondering how your body stores glucose for later use. The answer is in a molecule called glycogen. This molecule is in the form of glucose, meaning that it's where your body keeps excess glucose when it's not needed immediately.

The average person has about 400 grams of glycogen in their body at any given time, but this amount can vary based on many factors, including age, gender, and exercise level.

average person has about 400 grams of glycogen. (Image via Pexels / Tara Winstead)

It is stored as a branching chain of glucose molecules in the liver and muscles, arranged in a tightly packed structure that looks like a mesh bag.

A single branch can consist of up to 10-12 individual glucosyl units linked together by covalent bonds (these are similar to those that link amino acids together).

How Your Body Uses Glycogen

Your body uses glycogen as a source of energy. When glucose is converted into glycogen, it's stored in the liver and muscles. It is also converted back into glucose when it's needed by the body.

This is a form of stored energy, but unlike fat, which can be used for fuel at any time. Your body relies on muscle glycogen only when you're exercising or fasting (going without food).

amount of glycogen in your muscles depends on how much exercise. (Image via Pexels / Samer Daboul)

The amount of glycogen in your muscles depends on how much exercise you do over time. If you don't exercise regularly, then your muscles will have less glycogen available for use during exercise than someone who trains hard daily.

Glycogen and Muscle

It is an important source of energy for endurance athletes, who need to be able to exert themselves over long periods of time without fatigue or injury. For these athletes, glycogen is the primary source of glucose (aka blood sugar) during physical activity.

important source for working out. (Image via Pexels / Tima Miroshnichenko)

In complementing this process, it also helps prevent hypoglycemia—low blood sugar levels—during periods without food intake and stimulates release from liver glycogen reserves during fasting or starvation. This can be especially beneficial for dieters looking for ways to lose weight without consuming fewer calories than they need per day.

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand how glycogen works and why it's so important. The next time you hear someone talking about their "carb-loading" strategy or their "post-workout shake," maybe you can give them some insight into what those phrases mean.

Of course, there are also plenty of practical applications for this knowledge--if nothing else than knowing when to eat before a workout!


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Edited by
Ankush Das
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