How Are Aerobic And Anaerobic Respiration Different?

When looking into exercising, two terms that get thrown around a lot are aerobic and anaerobic respiration.

How Are Aerobic And Anaerobic Respiration Different

While you probably already know that these two terms refer to the way you breathe while exercising, not a lot of people understand the differences between the two. 

What exactly are aerobic and anaerobic respiration, and how are they different from one another?

Here we are going to take a closer look at the different ways we breathe when we exercise, so you can have a better understanding of our respiration process and how it changes as we exercise. 

What Is Aerobic Respiration? 

How Are Aerobic And Anaerobic Respiration Different

Aerobic respiration is our main respiration process that happens during our everyday activity. All plants and animals respire aerobically. It occurs in most living cells and releases a high amount of energy.

This energy is used for a lot of other important processes that help keep us alive day to day, including maintaining our body’s temperature, growth, muscle contraction and transporting molecules in our body.

Respiration is a tricky process that requires a lot of components and chemicals for it to work properly.

Its goal is to break down nutrient molecules to release energy – but different respiration processes use different components to complete this process. 

Aerobic respiration uses oxygen in this breakdown process, along with glucose.

Then, it releases byproducts like carbon dioxide and water, plus the energy that allows us to move and function in our everyday lives. 

So, aerobic respiration is just the average way that we breathe, making it the most common respiration process.

We breathe in oxygen, and breathe out carbon dioxide – exactly what we learned in kindergarten. As you sit and read this, you are most likely breathing aerobically right now. 

What Is Anaerobic Respiration?

How Are Aerobic And Anaerobic Respiration Different

Anaerobic respiration is a bit more complicated than aerobic respiration. 

This type of respiration occurs during exercise when our bodies are not taking in enough oxygen to energize the actions we need to take for exercise.

This means that our cells are not getting enough oxygen to complete the breakdown process to release energy.

However, instead of our bodies just collapsing and being unable to move until our cells get enough oxygen to start the breakdown process again, anaerobic respiration kicks in. 

Anaerobic respiration is respiration  that does not require oxygen.

Instead, electron acceptors are used instead of oxygen in the breakdown process , but it is not as effective, meaning that the glucose is not broken down completely.

Because of this, the byproducts created by anaerobic respiration include lactic acid. This lactic acid needs to be oxidized later in order for our body to release it. 

This creates something called oxygen debt, or something sometimes known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

This means that once we finish exercising, we continue to breathe heavily to try to repay our bodies with oxygen to make up for the lack of oxygen in our bodies earlier.

This oxygen breaks down the lactic acid that has built up in our muscles, then our bodies switch back to aerobic respiration. 

Anaerobic respiration only occurs during exercise. This is when our demand for oxygen (which we need in order to move) outstrips the supply of oxygen actually reaching our cells.

To compensate, our bodies switch to anaerobic breathing , so we can continue that breakdown process without the need for oxygen.

Although we have to pay it back later, breathing anaerobically allows us to continue moving and exercising even when our bodies are not receiving enough oxygen to power us. 

Aerobic Vs Anaerobic

How Are Aerobic And Anaerobic Respiration Different

The main difference between aerobic and anaerobic respiration is that aerobic respiration uses oxygen in the glucose breakdown process, while anaerobic respiration does not.

This is literally translated in the names of each respiration type – aerobic means ‘with air’ and anaerobic means ‘without air’. 

This is because aerobic respiration occurs during everyday life or very light exercise like walking, swimming, or cycling .

These types of aerobic training is ideal for building your endurance over time and is proven to improve your heart and lungs.

This is because while your body does work harder to supply your body with enough energy to power you through this light exercise, it does not need to switch to anaerobic respiration just yet. 

Anaerobic exercise is much more intense and requires a lot more movement, hence why our bodies cannot keep up with the oxygen supply to our cells – they are moving too quickly.

So, anaerobic respiration ditches oxygen all together until later when our oxygen demand is low again.

Anaerobic respiration occurs during exercises like jumping, sprinting, weightlifting, and any other exercises that aim to burn fat and build muscles

Another key difference between aerobic and anaerobic respiration is that aerobic respiration produces a lot more energy than anaerobic does.

In fact, it is said that aerobic respiration produces nineteen times more energy than anaerobic respiration does! 

Plus, the glucose breakdown in anaerobic respiration is incomplete while in aerobic respiration it is. Another difference between the two is  that they produce different byproducts.

Aerobic respiration produces water and carbon dioxide once the breakdown process is complete, while anaerobic respiration produces lactic acid that needs to be broken down later once you finish exercising. 


So clearly, there is a big difference between aerobic and anaerobic respiration. Both types of respiration work very differently, produce different results, and occur during different forms of exercise. 

Aerobic respiration uses oxygen in its process and occurs during our everyday activities, as well as lighter exercises such as walking or cycling.

It produces a lot of energy and creates byproducts like carbon dioxide and water, which we breathe out straight away. 

Anaerobic respiration does not use oxygen because it occurs during intense periods of exercise when our bodies need more oxygen than we can take in with a single breath.

So, anaerobic respiration ditches oxygen and instead produces lactic acid which can be broken down later after exercise. It does not produce as much energy as aerobic respiration does. 

Both aerobic and anaerobic respiration are closely related to different forms of exercise.

Aerobic exercise is better for improving your stamina and endurance, while anaerobic exercise is better for burning fat and strengthening your muscles, so think about why you want to exercise, so you can choose the right form for you!

Megan Rinzel
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