Anabolism vs. Catabolism – Which exercise is the best

Catabolism is the process where large and complex molecules are broken down. Best example of a catabolic process is food digestion. Anabolism is the opposite where you build something say rebuilding of muscles. The correct understanding of anabolic and catabolic process will help you to stay fit and plan for the correct exercise. Of course it will help you in your weight loss journey.


The most common example which comes to mind for this process is digestion. Even the process of breaking down of fat and muscle for energy is catabolism. It involves the following hormones.

  • Cortisol
  • Adrenaline
  • Cytokines
  • Glucagon

Catabolic hormones are released when we are under stress.

An example of this process is the breaking down of carbs into glucose and releasing in the blood stream. Glucose is absorbed by the cells because it is the primary source of energy.


When we get a cut, the healing process begins. This is anabolism, the building process. When muscles undergo wear and tear, they are repaired by anabolic process.

Liver is the fat storage refrigerator of our body. Excess glucose in our blood is brought back to the liver. Here it is converted to a fat called glycogen. When body needs energy, the liver converts glycogen back to glucose and releases it into the blood. This is also an anabolic process. The hormones involved in anabolism are

  • Insulin
  • Growth hormone
  • Estrogen
  • Testosterone

Anabolism are used by body builders who use the healing power of muscles to develop them.

Role of hormones

Hormones are like messengers and signalling system of the body. They are released by various glands to trigger changes. Glands are controlled by the master regulator in our brain, the hypothalamus. Hormones are responsible to trigger the various catabolic and anabolic process in the body. Any disruption in the signalling system happens because of hormonal imbalance like thyroid condition or insulin resistance.

Plan for the correct exercise to keep fit

It is important to understand both the process to decide what kind of body you will maintain. Catabolic exercise involves a lot of breathing and activity based exercise like running or swimming. It consumes energy and you need carbs for that. Anabolic exercise focus more on muscle building which is achieved by weight and strength training like chip ups or bench press. These exercises can be done with or without weights.

First let us examine anabolic exercise in detail. Muscle building helps you to lose fat. But that will also make your muscles denser. This means that despite having a lean physique, you might have more weight. Consuming Vitamin C and D rich food will increase your bone density too. More intake of calcium, protein and fats will also increase your muscle as well as bone density. But we all know as a thumb rule, once you give up weight training, you will quickly gain weight because of the diet. Weight and strength training has to be life long.

Catabolic exercises are all those which involve movement and heavy breathing. Running, Swimming, Cycling and so on come under this category. These exercise require energy. It is either provided by the food eaten or from glycogen reserves from the liver and stored fat. The body can even break down muscles to produce glucose. Catabolic exercise builds up stamina. It also helps with breathing and lungs capacity. You will also benefit from improved blood circulation. However you will not be building muscle mass by these exercises.


Walking is the best exercise for fat loss. It involves both catabolism as well as anabolism process. The next best exercise for all ages is suryanamaskar. It builds strength, flexibility and helps breathing too. Finally a bit of weight training and swimming should be an ideal mix for that lean physique.

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