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What is Anaerobic Glycolysis?

Anaerobic glycolysis is a rapid energy-releasing process where glucose breaks down without oxygen, producing energy and lactate. It's crucial during high-intensity activities when oxygen is scarce. This biochemical pathway is a fascinating dance of enzymes and molecules, fueling muscles when demand outpaces oxygen supply. Intrigued by how our bodies adapt to intense exertion? Let's examine the intricate steps involved.
Vasanth S.
Vasanth S.

Anaerobic glycolysis is a metabolic process in which glucose, a sugar molecule, is broken down without the use of oxygen. Like aerobic glycolysis, which metabolizes glucose in the presence of oxygen, it produces energy for the cells. Breaking down glucose without using oxygen also produces lactate, however, and when the process is prolonged, it generally leads to lactic acidosis, which is a decrease in the pH level of the blood. It is usually alleviated when normal oxygen levels return to the cell and aerobic glycolysis takes over.

Typically, anaerobic glycolysis occurs in muscle cells during vigorous physical activity. When the energy requirement for a particular action is not adequately met by aerobic means, the muscle cells process glucose without the use of oxygen in order to produce energy quickly. Eventually, the surrounding tissue is flooded with lactate, and the muscle activity generally decreases. As the lactate concentration increases in the blood, it is slowly converted back to glucose in the liver with the aid of oxygen. The conversion of glucose to lactate and lactate back to glucose is called the Cori Cycle, which was described by Carl and Gerty Cori in the 1930s and 1940s.

Anaerobic glycolysis is when glucose is broken down without using oxygen.
Anaerobic glycolysis is when glucose is broken down without using oxygen.

Certain cells and tissues convert glucose to lactate even in the presence of oxygen, including red blood cells and cells of the retina. Since the earliest cells had to thrive in conditions that were void of oxygen, metabolic pathways such as anaerobic glycolysis evolved to produce energy. Cells that lack a mitochondria also typically use this process.

Lactate is converted by to glucose in the liver.
Lactate is converted by to glucose in the liver.

Normally, glycolysis produces two molecules of pyruvate from one glucose molecule, as well as a molecule called NADH. Each pyruvate molecule is usually converted to acetate and then processed in the citric acid cycle to form carbon dioxide and water, while NADH is oxidized to NAD+ by passing its electrons to an oxygen molecule in the mitochondria. NAD+ is a required electron acceptor in the process of glycolysis and without it, glycolysis would stop.

Under anaerobic conditions, the oxygen molecule that is required to accept the electron from NADH is usually missing, which forces the cell to find another electron acceptor. The molecule that fulfills this role is typically lactate, which is the reduced form of pyruvate. An enzyme called lactate dehydrogenase catalyzes the reaction that converts pyruvate to lactate. In the process, NADH donates its electron to pyruvate and is converted to NAD+, which is then recycled for use in glycolysis.

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Discussion Comments


"...the more alkaline the body is, the better it is for overall health..."

Normal range is 7.2 to 7.4, which is slightly alkaline. More is bad.

Exercise causes acidity through Lactic acidosis due to non-Oxygen metabolism: anaerobic. Also, Aerobic acidifies even more with CO2 too; muscle contraction acidifies, no matter how the muscle fuel is metabolized.


2nd para. stored in "glucose" or blood glucose, technically; not "food".

Question: where is glycogen in the process going to ATP?

The other suggestion was eliminating the adjective "excited" on electron. Doesn't sound right or necessary, but I could be wrong. You do such a good job explaining a very complicated process that it might as well be as close to perfect as possible.




When the saber tooth tiger was gaining, our ancestors had to give it one last max. effort sprint, and there was no way to breathe when at full effort. Ditto, when heavy lifting or swimming the last lap. Aerobic metabolism delivers max. power to the muscles in 1/3rd the time, but is only 20% as glucose efficient as aerobic metabolism. Resistance training is anaerobic, and if continued to muscle exhaustion (one more rep. impossible), the brain floods the body with a cascade of hormones that stimulate fat-burning that lasts until well after the session. One MD claimed it would continue for a week.




"We should ignore dogmas about drinking a set amount per day and simply drink when our brains tell us we are dry, suggests a new Australian study on how the human body regulates water intake.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, is the first ever experiment to look at what happens in people's brains at the time they quench their thirst and when they drink more water than they want, the overarching impression is that the brain coordinates drinking to ensure that water balance in the body is preserved."

add http:// to the below to read article:



Oxygen is obtained from breathing it in. Your body compensates for the lack of oxygen during strenuous exercise by doing lactic acid fermentation, using the pyruvate and NADH generated in glycolysis to regenerate NAD+ (and make lactate) so that you can keep regenerating ATP.

You need ATP for muscular activity and without oxygen (or with very little) you cannot generate much ATP via aerobic metabolism. Glucose breakdown accelerates via this pathway. Your pH changes slightly (your body generally is at a neutral pH), but is restored soon after oxygen is inhaled and aerobic metabolism can proceed forward.

The lactate can be converted back to pyruvate and then metabolized via aerobic metabolism or can be used to synthesize glucose vie gluconeogenesis, if needed.


@Mammmood - I tend to agree, although until reading this article I didn’t know anything about lactic acid.

I just know that after sudden, strenuous weight lifting my muscles would burn a lot. That may be related to the acidic state of the body after anaerobic workout.

I’ve always been told, however, that I needed to make sure I drank plenty of water in between the workouts. Perhaps this is to introduce oxygen into the body which will help to restore the pH balance to the proper levels.


I know a little about pH balance in the body; generally, the more alkaline the body is, the better it is for overall health.

This article seems to suggest that sudden short bursts of intense physical activity will result in an acidic state in the body, if only for a short period of time. I don’t know if that is good or bad in the long run.

At any rate, in my opinion anaerobic metabolism, while accomplishing the needed effect of delivering needed bursts of energy, should not be the main kind of metabolism for the body.

That’s why I’ve always begun any exercise routine with aerobic exercises that get my blood pumping and generate the needed oxygen for the exercise.

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    • Anaerobic glycolysis is when glucose is broken down without using oxygen.
      By: michaeljayberlin
      Anaerobic glycolysis is when glucose is broken down without using oxygen.
    • Lactate is converted by to glucose in the liver.
      By: designua
      Lactate is converted by to glucose in the liver.