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Periodic Graphics: The science of exercise

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning explores the chemicals at work when we work out.

by Andy Brunning, special to C&EN
May 17, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 19


Andy Brunning/C&EN
Andy Brunning/C&EN

To download a pdf of this article, visit

References used to create this graphic:

Burton, Deborah Anne, Keith Stokes, and George M. Hall. “Physiological Effects of Exercise.”Contin. Educ. Anaesth. Crit. Care Pain (Dec. 2004). DOI: 10.1093/bjaceaccp/mkh050.

Lavelle, Judy. “Exploring the Molecular Basis of ‘Runner’s High.’ ”Chemical & Engineering News, Oct. 5, 2015.

Miller, Kevin C., Marcus S. Stone, Kellie C. Huxel, and Jeffrey E. Edwards. “Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention.”Sports Health (July 2010). DOI: 10.1177/1941738109357299.

Zoorob, Roger, Mari-Etta E. Parrish, Heather O’Hara, and Medhat Kalliny. “Sports Nutrition Needs: Before, during, and after Exercise.”Primary Care: Clin. Off. Pract. (June 2013). DOI: 10.1016/j.pop.2013.02.013.

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest

To see more of Brunning’s work, go to To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit




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tz (May 21, 2020 9:16 PM)
And those on Keto/Paleo diets with near zero carb but who are burning Ketones instead?
The Graphic all but says ONLY carbs can provide energy. What did/do the Innuit (Eskimo) eat?
Andy Brunning (May 27, 2020 4:29 AM)
The graphic doesn't say that only carbohydrates can provide energy - in the second panel, it highlights that 'aerobic respiration uses fatty acids and glucose to make ATP'.
Sebastian Furness (May 21, 2020 9:40 PM)
This infographic implies that the sole source of energy during exercise is carbohydrate. This is certainly not the case, free fatty acids are certainly used during exercise and, in fact, trained athletes clearly utilise fats as the preferred energy source during extended exercise.
Andy Brunning (May 27, 2020 4:28 AM)
The fact that fatty acids are also used is mentioned in the middle panel.
Mrs Hayles (May 22, 2020 3:29 AM)
We spend years teaching students that energy cannot be produced. It is released or transferred.
Saviowandera (May 27, 2020 1:21 PM)
Where is ATP stored?

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