Understanding Mitochondria and Cellular Energy – Part 1

Understanding Mitochondria and Cellular Energy – Part 1

Just as the various batteries in today’s world—from the simple AA’s in a wall clock to the sophisticated lithium-ion that run every smartphone—power our daily devices, tiny little energy centers within nearly everyone of our cells, called mitochondria, are responsible for fueling nearly every action our body performs, from thinking and dreaming to walking and talking. These tiny cellular engines are akin to miniature power plants, churning out the energy needed for our cells to function.

The Role of Mitochondria in Our Bodies

Mitochondria are more than just cellular batteries; they are the epicenters of energy production within our cells. We share a common belief that the air that we breath and the food we consume is what provides us with instant energy, but this is simply not correct. Instead, oxygen and the macro and micro-nutrients we break down from food must first be converted into a chemical fuel called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy currency of the body. This process is critical for supporting everything from basic cellular functions to complex bodily movements.

How Do Mitochondria Work?

The function of mitochondria is extremely complicated and even though well understood today, cannot be duplicated in a laboratory. This technical biochemical marvel which occurs billions of times each day, can be somewhat visualized by thinking about gears in a car. In this case there would be three main gears that the body shifts through to produce the energy we use every day:

Glycolysis (gear one): Occurring in the cell's cytoplasm, this process breaks down glucose into a substance called pyruvate, which produces small amounts of ATP (two molecules).

The Krebs Cycle (gear two): Inside the mitochondria, pyruvate is converted into another substance called acetyl-CoA, which then enters this second cycle. This stage produces several important molecules that transport energy to the next and most important stage.

Electron Transport Chain (gear three): This final stage is where the majority of our ATP is produced. Here, energy carriers from the Krebs cycle transfer electrons through a chain of protein complexes (think of these as winding roadways), with oxygen acting as the final electron acceptor. This critical step delivers the most ATP (32-36 molecules), making this gear on average 16-18 times more efficient at generating cellular energy than the first two gears (this should also give you an understanding of how important oxygen is to energy production).

Influencing Mitochondrial Efficiency

Like any power system, the efficiency of our mitochondria depends on several factors:

Diet: The availability of nutrients like coenzyme Q10, carnitine, and antioxidants is crucial for optimal mitochondrial function. These nutrients help boost mitochondrial efficiency, much like high-quality fuel can improve the performance of an engine.

Exercise: Regular physical activity promotes the growth of new mitochondria and enhances the efficiency of existing ones, effectively upgrading our body's power plants.

Sleep: Quality sleep acts as essential maintenance time for mitochondria, helping to ensure they are repairing and functioning properly.

Optimizing Your Cellular Power Plants

To maximize your mitochondria's performance, consider the following tips:

Eat A Nutrient-Rich Diet: Incorporating nutrient dense foods like grass-fed or game meat into your diet, you will ensure bioavailable energy-supportive nutrients like coenzyme Q10, carnitine, creatine and antioxidants are delivered to your cells to support mitochondrial health.

Regular Physical Activity: Engage in regular exercise, especially muscle centric workouts that support lean body mass, as this stimulates mitochondrial efficiency and growth (muscle loss is a major reason for mitochondrial loss and dysfunction).

Adequate Sleep: Prioritize getting enough restful sleep to allow for mitochondrial repair and optimization.

Understanding and supporting your cellular power plants can significantly enhance your energy levels and overall well-being. This foundational knowledge is not only crucial for those interested in health and science but is also applicable to anyone looking to improve their vitality and vigor.


In Part 2, we’ll explore the vital role of oxygen in energy production, further unpacking how the air we breathe has the potential to fuel these incredible powerhouses within our cells. Stay tuned!

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