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What Is ATP? The Synthesis & Storage Process Explained

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights

Unless your job involves teaching or understanding the intricacies of biological processes, you probably don’t think much about ATP, what it is, and why you need it. What you might think about, however, is energy. 

Getting enough energy through our body’s metabolic processes helps us feel alert, responsive, and alive. A lack of energy production can make us feel lethargic, foggy, and maybe even like we’re losing our edge. The creation of energy involves the production of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate. 

We’ll explain how it works, why it’s important, and what you can do to make sure your body is creating the energy it needs for you to thrive. 

Understanding ATP

Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is a molecule that is used for energy and storage of energy at the cellular level. ATP is a nucleotide triphosphate, which means it has a nitrogenous base (adenine), a ribose sugar, and three serially bonded phosphate groups. 

To put it a little more plainly, nucleotides like ATP are made up of a nitrogen base, a sugar molecule, and some salt. The creation of ATP, or how these molecules get bonded together, is a process called ATP synthesis. 

ATP is an energy currency. The breakdown of ATP through ATPhydrolysis allows the cell to use ATP for energy to fuel cellular processes like:

  • DNA/RNAsynthesis
  • Ion transport
  • Muscle contractions
  • Nerve impulses 
  • Many types of chemical synthesis

We’ll explain hydrolysis when discussing how ATP is broken down later. Before we learn about how ATP is created and used, let’s talk more about the processes supported by ATP so we can understand how vital it is to every biological process in our bodies. 

The Functions That Use ATP

All the processes in your body require energy, and ATP is the molecule that stores the energy your body uses for these processes. 

DNA/RNASynthesis

You know that DNA is your genetic makeup, the code by which new cells are created that are specifically “you.” These compounds are the blueprints of your cells and your blueprints for living. 

DNA and RNA are essential for making you who you are, what you are, and how you are. ATP creates the DNA and RNA carried from one cell to another. In other words, when new cells are proliferated, DNA and RNA must be created in those new cells, and ATP fuels that process. 

Ion Transport

ATP supports the movement of ions across membranes. This matters because compounds needed by cells (like glucose, other ions, and amino acids) need to get across cell membranes to be used by other cells or organelles. 

Ion transport uses ATP to move higher concentrations of these compounds to lower concentrations through a process called active transport. 

Muscle Contraction

ATP is really important for fueling your workouts. It’s the primary source of energy for ensuring your muscles contract properly. The harder and longer your muscles contract, the more ATP will be depleted. The body has a process of recycling ATP during exercise, which we will discuss later.

Nerve Impulses

Nerve cells communicate with one another through chemical transmitters that cross the spaces between the two nerves, called synapses. ATYP fuels the chemical transmitter from one nerve to cross the synapse to another. 

Chemical Synthesis

ATP is used in the creation of other important chemicals and compounds in your body that are required for living. Without ATP, your body stops functioning.

How Is ATP Made? Understanding ATP Synthesis

ATP is generated through cellular respiration, usually through the breakdown of glucose, which is the body’s preferred resource for ATP synthesis. 

Cellular respiration happens in the mitochondrial matrix, located inside the mitochondrial membranes. For every molecule of glucose, cellular respiration can make 32 molecules of ATP. 

There are four basic steps in cellular respiration. 

1. Glycolysis

During glycolysis, a molecule of glucose is broken down into two pyruvate molecules and one molecule of ATP. During the process, a compound called NAD+ is converted to NADH. These compounds will be important during the last step of cellular respiration. 

2. Pyruvate Oxidation

The pyruvate molecules we ended up with from glycolysis are then shuttled into the mitochondrial matrix, broken down into smaller molecules, and bound with Coenzyme A or acetyl CoA. This process releases carbon dioxide and more NADH. 

3. Citric Acid Cycle

Also known as the Krebs Cycle, this process converts the acetyl CoA from pyruvate oxidation to create carbon dioxide, more NADH, a compound called FADH2 (flavin adenine dinucleotide), and another molecule of ATP. This happens through a series of chemical reactions. 

4. Oxidative Phosphorylation

During this final step of cellular respiration, the majority of ATP is created. The NADH and FADH2 created in the earlier steps are broken back down to their original states as they deposit some electrons into the electron transport chain.

Protons are then moved out of the matrix, forming what is known as a gradient. The protons then flow back into the matrix with the help of an enzyme called ATP synthase, and this process of proton shuffling creates ATP. Another product of oxidative phosphorylation is water, which will be needed for ATPhydrolysis. 

Cellular respiration is the process by which glucose is broken down into ATP, but unless you’re on a diet of straight sugar, you’re also eating other macronutrients, like protein and fat. The body uses different processes to break down protein and fat before converting these molecules into ATP. 

Other Methods of Entering Cellular Respiration

How fat and proteins enter cellular respiration is different from how glucose enters. These molecules are broken down differently and then slipped into the process through a side-door entrance. 

Protein Synthesis

Proteins must be broken down into amino acids before being able to enter cellular respiration. At what point they’ll enter the process depends on what kind of protein is being broken down.

However, proteins are rarely used for energy. They’ll only be used when there are excess amino acids in the bloodstream or when the cells are starving for energy. 

Fatty Acid Synthesis

Fatty acids must go through beta-oxidation. During this process, the fatty acid compounds are broken down into units that can bond with acetyl CoA, which allows the acids to join in the citric acid cycle. 

Ketones

If you are on a low-carbohydrate diet, your body may produce ketones. Ketones can be picked up from the bloodstream to create ATP instead of glucose. They are converted into acetyl CoA, which is used in the citric acid cycle. 

Hydrolysis: How Is Energy Released?

We know how ATP is created and why it is needed, but we haven’t talked about the process by which ATP is converted to adenosine diphosphate, or “ADP,” and used by the cells, a process known as hydrolysis of ATP.

The hydrolysis of ATP occurs during cellular respiration, releasing energy by breaking high-energy bonds. This process converts H2O + ATP ⇒ ADP + Pi + free energy, and the released energy is utilized by the cell for various metabolic activities.

Substrate Phosphorylation 

Once ATP becomes ADP, it can be recycled into the cellular respiration process to create new ATP. This process is known as substrate phosphorylation. During the initial process, ADP must bond with another phosphate molecule. 

Cellular respiration begins with oxidative phosphorylation, where a glucose molecule is present or substrate phosphorylation, where chemical energy has been released and ADP is present. 

The Storage of ATP

It’s hard for cells to store ATP molecules, so when there is excess ATP, it is typically stored in the liver, along with excess glucose, both of which have been converted to glycogen. It may also be stored in the muscles and in adipose tissue. 

The energy created from ATP molecules is stored in the three phosphate bonds of the ATP molecule itself. When ATP is needed for energy, the molecule releases a phosphate bond, becomes ADP, and releases energy. 

How Can We Make More ATP?

If you haven’t used up all your available ATP yet in reading this article, you might wonder how to make more of this powerful energy source. We need between 100-150 molecules of ATP per day to carry out basic biological processes. Everything else requires more. 

ATP Production With Age

ATP production eventually slows, resulting from a decline in mitochondrial function that is common with age. If we can somehow amp up the work of the mitochondria, we can expect an increase in ATP production. 

Steps To Support Mitochondrial Function 

Supporting your mitochondria is a multifaceted task. There are some basic steps we can take to ensure our mitochondria (and our entire bodies) function better. 

Protect the body from oxidative stress.Oxidative stress happens when cells become weak and damaged by free radicals. We can protect our cells from oxidative stress by consuming more antioxidant-rich foods and strengthening our cells. 

Eat healthfully to support your body. It’s a no-brainer. Eating more fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins is key to a thriving body. 

Exercise. You need at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training per week to support strong bones, muscle growth, and proper ATP production. 

Get enough rest. The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per day. Make sure you are getting enough rest to support cellular function. 

Take a supplement.

Not all aspects of our health are as easy as taking a capsule, but

supporting your mitochondria in a significant way just might be. 

                Pentadecanoic acid, also known as C15:0, is an odd-chained, saturated fatty acid that is essential to keep your body thriving and your mitochondria healthy.* You can get your daily dose by taking one fatty15 capsule per day. 

                Elevate your cells. Elevate your self.

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                Fatty15 and Your Cells

                It’s just a little fatty acid, but it can do some impressive tasks inside your cells. Fatty15 is the first and only supplement to contain pure FA15™, a vegan-friendly version of pentadecanoic acid, or C15:0. 

                This acid is found naturally in whole-fat dairy products, but only in limited amounts. Increasing your intake of whole milk and full-fat butter would mean increasing calories and pro-inflammatory fats, too. Instead, fatty15 gives you the good, cell-supportive fatty acid supplementation you need without the classic side effects of fatty acid supplementation.* 

                How C15:0 Helps Your Mitochondria

                When cells age, they become weak. Even the cell membranes, which are normally sturdy, become thin, making it easier for them to succumb to oxidative stress. Inside the cells, the mitochondrial function begins to slow.

                Fatty15 dives into your cells to reverse cellular aging by:* 

                • Strengthening cellular membranes. This sturdy fatty acid protects cell membranes by improving cellular strength by 80%. 
                • Removing damaged cells. C15:0 activates AMPK, an enzyme that helps clear out damaged cells. 
                • Regulating your body’s immune response helps calm and lower proinflammatory cytokine levels, which can lead to premature aging. 
                • Repairing mitochondrial function, increasing cell energy output, and decreasing damaging reactive oxygen species by 45%. 

                By taking fatty15 just once a day, you can support your cells and their mitochondria, keeping them healthy and giving them what they need to fight back against cellular aging.* When your cells age healthfully, you can age healthfully, experience higher energy levels, and experience an overall happier, healthier you.* 

                Power Up

                You don’t have to get tired as you get older. Once you understand the biomechanisms of aging and energy production, you can use science as your ally and age healthfully. So go ahead, maintain your edge and your energy levels. 

                Fatty15 makes it easy to take care of your cellular health!*

                Sources:

                Physiology, Adenosine Triphosphate - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf

                Skeletal muscle energy metabolism and fatigue during intense exercise in man

                ATP Made by Mitochondria Diffuse in Nerve Cells to Maintain Energy Levels for Synaptic Transmission♦ - PMC

                Biochemistry, Electron Transport Chain - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf

                Ketone bodies: a review of physiology, pathophysiology and application of monitoring to diabetes

                Mitochondrial Aging and Age-Related Dysfunction of Mitochondria - PMC

                Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

                Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

                Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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