THE BASEBALL ENERGY SYSTEM: ATP-CP
No matter what athletic sport is being played, there is always one energy system that will predominate the outcome of performance. It’s important to know which energy system is the most involved in the sport because then we can control that environment in the weight room.
However, there are three different energy systems. We must be aware that they ALL work together at the same time to bring the body back to homeostasis (energy-balance).
No matter what energy system we look at, there is only one substrate that controls everything: Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).
Let’s highlight the different energy systems one-by-one, but really digging into the most relevant one for baseball performance.
- Oxidative System – Approximately 2 minutes or more of continuous work
This energy system is always “running”. During low-intensity activity, 70% of the ATP is produced from the metabolism of fats. Whether it be stored fat or molecules floating through the blood stream, the oxidative system aims to keep the body running.
As movement intensity increases, the need for fats that are stored for energy decreases, and the need for carbohydrates for fuel increases.
For example, Outfielders can either be running around a lot, or looking down at the ground a lot.
Even though pitching is an anaerobic activity, pitchers still need to have a decent base of aerobic capacity to bring their heart rate back down between pitches and to delay the amount of soreness between starts.
When our body is in a sympathetic, fight-or-flight, state it will pull anything out of surrounding tissues to create ATP. Yes, that means protein molecules from muscle. Side note: another reason why nutrition is so important!
- Glycolysis – 30 seconds of intense work
This energy system runs on carbohydrate utilization. Its main goal is to create ATP from glycogen stored in muscle tissue (or the liver). The result can be performed with or without the presence of oxygen, otherwise known as aerobic or anaerobic.
Most baseball players have heard the term “lactic acid”. When glycolysis is performed without any help from oxygen, lactate is the by-product. However, this is not the reason for your arm soreness!
Your arm soreness is coming from the micro trauma of the rotator cuff and surrounding structures. This micro trauma produces a metabolic acidosis response, which is the real reason for muscular fatigue.
The accumulation of hydrogen ions interferes with glycolytic reactions and molecular pathways that are needed for muscle contraction. Sounds problematic, doesn’t it?
Normal lactate concentrations work to decrease metabolic acidosis rather than create or accelerate it.
- ATP-CP – 1-12 seconds of intense work
I’m labeling this system as the “Baseball Energy System” because for most of the time players are in one stationary position.
When a baseball player does perform any skill, whether it be on either side of the plate, it is an acyclical power event. Meaning that all the force that is created is produced in one quick movement, and one quick movement only.
Well, how does this all work?
ATP is paired with another substrate called Creatine Phosphate (or phosphocreatine to my previous exercise physiology professor). When the body needs energy, it will break the bond between ATP and CP to release energy.
During intense training, phosphagen stores become depleted to be used for energy. However, they can be regenerated anywhere between three and five minutes.
Going back to my previous point that even though there are three energy systems, they ALL work together at the same time.
The only difference is that one predominates the other based on the length of activity that is being performed.
So, the aerobic and anaerobic systems work together to replenish resting CP stores. Increased aerobic capacity may increase resting phosphagen stores and decrease the rate of depletion, which is important for both training and performance.
As stated previously, we can manipulate our training so that we can put ourselves in a specific physiological response.
When we perform our energy system work, we also should consider the movement that is being performed. For the ATP-CP system, production is movement specific.
However, it’s important to train in multiple energy system zones so that our body can become an even better engine since all of these energy systems work together.
Other than baseball activity, sprinting is an excellent modality to tax the ATP-CP system. In comparison to long-distance running, weighted sprinting is a great option for both position players AND pitchers!
Research has shown that weighted sprinting improves both throwing velocity and aerobic power in the pitching population 
All the more reason to get your sprinting work in for energy system development!
Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS
Assistant Director of Training
Infiniti Sports Performance
1. Potteiger, JA, Williford, HN, Blessing, DL, and Smidt, J (1992). Effect of two training methods on improving baseball performance variables. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research 6, 2-6