The question says it all: How can I increase the mitochondrial biogenesis? (The creation of new mitochondria)

All sources I found say, that it is increased if there's enough demand. So what kind of exercise maximizes the demand?

This topic is related to this forum due to the impact on mitochondria on overall fitness performance. Mitochondria are the active mechanism in cell's production of ATP - or raw energy. The more mitochondria present in one's system, the more overall energy can be recognized. In fact, some studies indicate mitochondria has a profound and direct association with lifespan (ie, the more mitochondria, the longer the lifespan). This thought is supported by such products as Hammer Nutrition's Mito Caps.

This question assumes that mitochondria are required for energy and asks how can one foster the creation of more mitochondria via mitochondrial biogenesis.

  • Care to elaborate on the term? Im sure theres a layman alternative.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Aug 8 '11 at 20:04
  • Added a link to Wikipedia. Aug 9 '11 at 6:22
  • 2
    Could you also expand on how this is related to fitness and why? Are there particular goals you want to meet?
    – Matt Chan
    Aug 10 '11 at 15:08
  • Ryan Miller beat me to it :) Aug 13 '11 at 5:57

Exercise is highly specific, and will only affect the muscles you exercise--not all cells in the body. That said, there are two types of hypertrophy involved in building muscle:

  • Myofibrillar hypertrophy which builds more protein pairs and makes each muscle cell stronger. This is built using short rep schemes (1-5 reps) with high weight. This improves the power production that the muscle is capable of.
  • Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which builds more mitochondrial and support infrastructure in each muscle cell. This is built using longer rep schemes (10-15 reps) with low-medium weight, and is typically the type of hypertrophy that body builders are concerned with. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy also improves the amount of stored glycogen in the muscle.

How this translates to exercise other than weight lifting, I'm not sure. The information came from the "Practical Programming" by Rippetoe and Dr. Kilgore book.

In essence you want to invoke sarcoplasmic hypertrophy in order to increase the mitochondrial content of the muscle cells. You will have to read up on some advanced biology if you want to increase mitochondrial biogenesis throughout the body (i.e. more than just your muscle cells).

  • 1
    8-12 reps is generally accepted as the optimal range for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, not 10-15, according to articles on simplyshredded.com and bodybuilding.com.
    – JoJo
    Aug 10 '11 at 4:14
  • I'm going by the chart in the Practical Programming book. Since my goals are for myofibrillar hypertrophy, I'm not as well versed in the generally accepted rep range for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Aug 10 '11 at 12:59

I found an interesting article about the internals of mitochondrial biogenesis. As it is quite long and technical, I'd like to summarize the key points in case someone is interested:

It is not 100% clear what exactly triggers the creation of new mitochondria. However two important factors for triggering the necessary genes are known:

Increased calcium levels in the muscle cells

Research suggests that simply an increase in the concentration of calcium within the cells of skeletal muscle, something which happens with each muscle contraction, is capable of inducing mitochondrial protein synthesis. This increase in calcium is suggested to activate an enzyme called calcium-calmodulin kinase (CAMK) which then plays a role in the expression of mitochondrial biogenesis associated proteins.

ATP consumption outpaces ATP production

The other apparently essential and dominant signal necessary to incur mitochondrial biogenesis appears to be a reduction in cellular concentrations of high energy phosphates such as ATP and phosphocreatine. [...] The current knowledge regarding the genetic signaling necessary for overall mitochondrial up-regulation suggests that it may be necessary for mitochondrial uncoupling to occur, or when ATP consumption outpaces ATP production during intense exercise

Concrete exercise advice:

In general, it appears that in order to push mitochondrial densities to their maximum when building one’s aerobic engine, it would be wise to regularly include intensities which approach VO2max or harder [...] on a regular basis within an overall training program.

I hope this helps someone besides me :)

  • 1
    +1 Great answer. I wonder how an increase in mitochondria mass relates to the increase in anaerobic threshold you get from high intensity anaerobic workouts. I know that blood lactate saturation is an indicator that whatever byproducts of work that cause fatigue are building up faster than they can be processed. Could mitochondrial mass be used as a deciding factor to determine fatigue resistance while doing anaerobic work? Or, is it just one small piece to the greater physiological puzzle. Aug 12 '11 at 17:41
  • I really don't know, but if I'd have to guess, I'd assume the latter, i.e. that it's a (important) piece of the physiological puzzle, simply because of the vast quantities of interdependencies of genes, neurotransmitters, proteins, enzymes, etc. Just browsing through the basic stuff on Wikipedia can occupy you for days. Aug 13 '11 at 6:08
  • I would presume that having more mitochondria would lower the threshold, as in you start getting cramps more easily unless you can also increase the O2 supply to the muscle tissue.
    – posdef
    May 12 '12 at 12:46

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