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How to Increase Mitochondrial Density For More Efficient Fat Burning

mitochondria 3d renderingIf you want to increase your mitochondrial density, you must provide a stimulus to give your body a reason to manufacture more mitochondria. Here’s what you can do to increase your number of mitochondria, and why it’s an important goal to have.

What are Mitochondria?

Mitochondria are the power plants of cells. Their primary role is to convert the nutrients we eat into energy – specifically through the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is then used by our cells to facilitate a whole host of body functions from breathing to exercising.

Without delving too deep into cellular biology, just understand that mitochondria are essential to our energy metabolism, and because of this, they play a very important role in fatty acid oxidation (fat loss). For fat loss to occur, fatty acids must be mobilized from fat stores and sent to mitochondria to be oxidized so that they can be used for energy.

Why You Want to Increase Your Mitochondrial Density

If mitochondria are integral in the metabolism of fatty acids, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the more of them you had, the better? Increasing mitchondria (mitochondrial biogenesis) takes the demand off of 10 mitochondria and disperses the workload amongst 100 – enabling them to more efficiently do their job of converting energy (fat) into ATP so it can be used by the body. In reality, there can be thousands of mitochondria in each of our cells, and the human body has trillions of cells, so do the math – we have a lot of mitochondria. Still, it never hurts to have more.

Give Your Body a Reason to Manufacture More Mitochondria

In order to increase your mitochondrial density, you have to give your body a reason to produce more mitochondria. As with most components of the human body, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Put into another context, if your body doesn’t need them, it won’t produce them.

Let’s take muscle tissue for example. Our body is not going to undergo the highly energy intensive task to build and maintain new muscle tissue if it has no reason to. If it’s not going to be lifting heavy weights, it has no need to build muscle to lift it. And just like when you stop working out you lose muscle mass, when you stop providing a reason for mitochondria to be around, you lose them too – making fat loss much less efficient.

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How to Increase Mitochondrial Density

Alright, so we know what mitochondria are and why we want to increase the number of them. Now, how do we go about increasing the number of them we have. Fortunately for us, there are quite a few studies that have looked into this.

Both endurance and strength training cause an increased capacity for fatty acid oxidation that correlates with an increase in mitochondrial density [1]. The higher demand for energy by muscles created a higher demand for mitochondria to provide it.

Low volume HIIT (high-intensity interval training) increases mitochondrial biogenesis [2]. Within 24 hours of maximal intensity exercise, new mitochondria were being formed. The intensity of your exercise and the demand that places on your muscles is a major stimulator to increase mitochondrial density.

Read more about HIIT and see some sample workouts.

A combination of both endurance and resistance exercise causes a significantly higher degree of mitochondrial biogenesis than endurance exercise alone [3]. What can we take away from this study? Including both strength training and cardio into your fitness program is most effective for fat loss.

However, while this study defined cardio as 1 hour of cycling at 65% of maximum oxygen uptake, my hypothesis would be that a combination of strength training and HIIT would outperform strength training and steady-state cardio when it comes to increasing mitochondrial biogenesis.

Here are 50 tips for building muscle that will help you increase your mitochondria.

Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplementation increased mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle [4]. BCAAs are 3 of the 9 essential amino acids required for humans. These amino acids cannot be synthesized by the human body and must be supplied by your diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and is the reason why protein is an essential macronutrient. Eating between .8-1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight should be enough to spur biogenesis.

To conclude, based on the scientific literature, if your goal is to boost your mitochondrial density and the corresponding degree of fatty acid oxidation (fat loss), focus your exercise program around resistance training and HIIT, and formulate a diet that is rich in protein, and low-glycemic carbohydrates.

  • Donna

    Firstly, I would just like to say how happy I was to find this website. I believe I have read every article and you offer such sound advise! It is so refreshing considering what is out there!!!! Thank you!!!!

    I need to drop my last 10 -12 12lbs and thus far the ketosis approach has really helped with the first 10lbs and I see a difference in measurements. I can honestly say I feel great eating good quality proteins, fats and vegetables and I rarely eat grains or starchy vegetables. Ironically I find I have enough energy to run a 10k or power thru my weight resistance workouts.

    I am trying to combine your article on how to lose 10lbs in a month, this particular one on ketosis and then one other about how much cardio is too much.

    I love cardio and weight training, however, I do believe I may be overdoing the cardio as I cannot get any leg development. My upper body which really doesn’t need leaning out, builds muscle great, but my lower body that needs the attention does not.

    I am wondering if I can combine all of this and develop a program that allows me to drop the last 10-12lbs, drop body fat and not eat away the muscle in my legs!!!!!!

    1. If I continue to eat low carbs and try to keep in ketosis, what do you recommend for post-workout nutrition? Does a fat source slow the rate of what a whey protein is suppose to do? Should I have a fruit or a starchy carb after a workout or is it necessary?
    2. Is daily cardio too much if you are trying to drop lbs? I have a lot of stamina and mix my cardio sessions into HIIT and steady state, etc.
    3. My diet seems to have more healthy fat calories than carb (vegetable) calories is that ok? That’s what ketosis basically is all about, but there sure seems to be some mixed feelings about it all.
    4. I also realize that I am not getting enough fiber! However, considering this is not a long-term approach can I stick with it until I get that last bit of weight off? And then up my carb count to ensure I am getting enough fiber.
    5 My carb count is well under 50 and all coming from vegetable sources. Some times an apple or something like that but I try to keep it limited to ensure ketosis.
    6. What’s your thoughts on a good natural whey protein for after workouts and
    7. What’s your thoughts on a casein protein at night to get me thru the night so I can do a fasted cardio in the morning….. I find it really works well but not sure if casein protein is good for you or not??

    Any other suggestions would be appreciated!!!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read thru this long winded post!!!!!!

    Keep up the great site!

    • Coach Calorie

      Quite a few questions there. Let’s see if I can knock them out:

      1. If your goal is to stay in ketosis, don’t worry about eating carbs. Have a protein/fat meal. And yes, the fat will slow down the digestion of the whey.

      2. Daily isn’t too much, but I do like to take at least 1 day off per week to rest. I certainly wouldn’t be doing high intensity cardio every day of the week. You need time to recuperate both mentally and physically.

      3. That is fine. People are fat phobic. It’s total calories that are going to make a difference. Eating fat does not make you fat – overeating does.

      4. You should have no problem getting in enough fiber eating veggies. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, etc…all of those have trace carbs with good fiber content.

      5. Are you trying to be in ketosis? It’s not necessary to lose fat. You can pop in and out of ketosis with no problem.

      6. I just use the cheapest whey protein isolate I can find. I make sure it’s unflavored so that I don’t gulp down all those artificial sweeteners.

      7. Nothing wrong with casein, and yes, it will digest slowly. However, so will a solid food meal. I always prefer solid food over shakes when possible.

  • Donna

    Again thanks!!!! You have been a very helpful!!!!

    Your comment: If your goal is to stay in ketosis, don’t worry about eating carbs. Have a protein/fat meal.

    My questions: In ketosis do vegetables as the only source of carbs count? Worry or not worry? They are healthy and provide fiber….

    One more question: for postworkout recovery in a low carb/ketosis scenario…. what kind of carb do you recommend!

    That’s it… thanks!!!!!!

    • Coach Calorie

      Donna, any kind of carbs are going to kick you out of ketosis. When glucose is present, your body is going to use it and not ketones. That being said, you don’t need to be in ketosis to lose weight, and having veggies will do nothing but improve your results IMO.

      As for post-workout, I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish. Eating carbs are going to kick you out of ketosis. You can’t have both. However, you could eat a potato and then be back in ketosis a few hours later. This is the idea behind a TKD.

  • Cathy

    Thank you for your article. My husband has mitochondrial problems (toxicity) from a drug treatment for Hep C and so has the typical metabolic symptoms of mitochondrial disease. I recently discovered that the Paleo type diet, high fat, low carb helps him, but I’m confused about protein sources. Is it better to get the protein or the fat? I don’t think lean protein sources are helpful (like skinless chicken breast or pork tenderloin). I’m sure high fat fish like salmon is one of the better choices. What about sources like bacon, dairy, high fat cheeses, cottage cheese?

    Thank you!

    • Coach Calorie

      Protein and fat are both essential macronutrients, so they are equally important. Nothing wrong with bacon or other fatty meats. Dairy can be a problem for some with intolerances. Stick to grass-fed meats when possible.

  • Michael

    This article is great information. Will applying this information to my training for college football help for my speed and endurance (With performing speed and endurance exercises) and more importantly a longer life span?

  • Vanillabn

    Really super read! Gosh, I could literally read these articles all day – can hardly keep up! Thanks for your great explanations! :)

  • Coach Calorie

    It will help with endurance, but I always recommend keeping your training sport specific. I don’t know what position you play, but football uses a lot of the ATP-CP system.

  • Donna D

    Having been recently diagnosed with mitochondrial myopathy, I was thrilled to see an article about mitochondria. I am still finding the balance between enough and too much exercise, and a diet to keep my energy up and weight down.