Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Respiration


Within your body, a process known as cellular respiration occurs. This process creates energy through ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Basically, your body uses aerobic respiration and anaerobic respiration to create energy. To do this, your body requires oxygen to work. While aerobic respiration operates using oxygen, anaerobic respiration functions without the presence of oxygen. To gain a better understanding of the two different types of respiration, read through the following guide.

An Overview of Cellular Respiration

Your body needs oxygen to run, and your cells require oxygen for aerobic respiration to create ATP. When it creates ATP, your body also produces water and carbon dioxide as a by-product. Whenever oxygen is not present, your body can still produce energy, but it must do so through anaerobic respiration. While aerobic respiration is occurring, the oxygen (O2) that is flooding your cells reacts with the glucose (C6H12O6) present to create energy (ATP), carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). As an equation, this is written out like this:

C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O + 2900 KJ (ATP)

When your body performs anaerobic respiration, it does not have enough oxygen to create energy in the previous way. Instead, it breaks down the glucose that is present into a mixture of energy (ATP) and lactic acid (C3H6O3). Although it produces less ATP than aerobic respiration, this process is still capable of producing some energy. When written out as an equation, it looks like this:

C6H12O6 → 2 C3H6O3 + Energy (ATP)

Creating Energy

Both aerobic respiration and anaerobic respiration produce energy, but aerobic respiration is capable of produce more ATP (energy) molecules than anaerobic respiration. During aerobic respiration, every glucose molecule activated creates 38 molecules of ATP. With anaerobic respiration, only 2 ATP molecules are produced by every glucose molecule.

The By-Products

Like most processes in your body, respiration produces certain by-products. When aerobic respiration occurs, it creates water and carbon dioxide that are easily removed by your body. Anaerobic respiration creates lactic acid. When created through intense exercise, this lactic acid can increase in your muscles and lead to muscle cramps.

Which Exercises and Sports Use Each Type of Cellular Respiration?

There are many types of exercises that you can do to remain healthy. From running to dancing, these exercises use energy produced in the cells to function. In general, a light or moderate exercise routine will use aerobic respiration to create energy. With intense exercise, your body does not have ready access to oxygen, so anaerobic respiration kicks in to produce additional energy.

Cardiovascular exercise can be done with aerobic respiration as long as your heart rate is at just 60 to 80 percent of your maximum level. By remaining at a maximum of 80 percent, your body is still able to get enough oxygen to keep your muscles going. If your goal is to carry out aerobic respiration, you can do activities like jogging, yoga, swimming or cycling.

Meanwhile, anaerobic respiration occurs only when there is an intense workout that needs a significant level of energy. To reach anaerobic respiration, your heart rate would need to be between 80 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate. Some of the activities that can use anaerobic respiration include wrestling, sprinting, swimming or football. Most athletes actually end up using both types of respiration, since aerobic respiration will use any of the oxygen present and anaerobic respiration will make up any additional energy needs.

Top athletes often have a difficult time reaching anaerobic respiration levels because their fitness level is already at its peak. In addition, elite athletes will normally have bodies that are capable of removing lactic acid efficiently, so they are able to sustain heightened levels of activity.