Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Respiration

Cellular respiration is a special process where cells produce energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). There are two types of cellular respiration, namely aerobic and anaerobic, which the cells can use to produce energy, depending on the availability of oxygen. The literal meaning between aerobic and anaerobic lies in that the former process is carried out with oxygen while the latter without oxygen. Read on to learn more differences between these two kinds of respiration.

Difference between Aerobic and Anaerobic Respiration

1. Oxygen

The presence of oxygen in the cells determines which type of cellular respiration will work, and in this case, aerobic respiration uses oxygen to produce energy in the form of ATP, with water and carbon dioxide as by-products. If oxygen is absent, the cells still produce energy, this time using anaerobic respiration.

During aerobic respiration, oxygen (O2) reacts with sugar or glucose (C6H12O6), producing carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O), and energy (ATP). Thus, the chemical equation:

C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O + 2900 KJ (ATP)

During anaerobic respiration, when there is not enough oxygen, cells break down glucose into lactic acid (C3H6O3) and energy (ATP). This process releases less energy than aerobic respiration. Thus, the chemical equation:

C6H12O6 → 2 C3H6O3 + Energy (ATP)

2. Energy Production

Although both processes produce energy, more ATP molecules are generated from aerobic than anaerobic respiration. Every glucose molecule generates 38 molecules of ATP during aerobic metabolism. In contrast, one molecule of glucose yields only 2 ATP molecules during anaerobic metabolism.

3. By-products

Aerobic respiration produces water and carbon dioxide as by-products, which are easily eliminated by the body. However, anaerobic respiration, which usually occurs during intense exercise, results in the production of lactic acid, which may accumulate in the muscles and cause muscle cramps.

Video: Aerobic vs. Anaerobic Respiration

Comparison Chart

Aerobic Respiration

Anaerobic Respiration

Cells involved

Most organisms and body cells need oxygen to produce energy and to survive.

Anaerobic metabolism may occur in muscle cells and red blood cells, as well as some types of bacteria and yeast

Lactic Acid Production



Energy Produced/Glucose Molecule

High (38 ATP molecules)

Low (only 2 ATP molecules)


ATP, water, and carbon dioxide

ATP, Lactic Acid


Oxygen + Glucose (sugar)


Reaction Site in the Cell

Cytoplasm, mitochondria


Stages Involved


2.Krebs cycle

3. Electron Transport Chain

1. Glycolysis

2. Fermentation




Which Sports Use Aerobic/Anaerobic Respiration?

There are many types of sports activities, from jogging to sprinting, swimming to scuba diving, and more. Whatever exercise you do, the body needs energy. Doing light to moderate exercise makes use of aerobic respiration to produce energy for the body while intense training may require anaerobic respiration when the amount of oxygen is not enough to produce energy.

Aerobic Respiration

Cardio exercises, which involve maintaining a steady heart rate at 60-80% of one’s maximum, use aerobic respiration because there is enough oxygen to sustain muscle power. Sports activities that use aerobic metabolism include distance running, swimming, biking, and jogging.

Anaerobic Respiration

Intense workouts and sports activities that use much energy within short bursts of activity usually require anaerobic respiration, which provides an immediate source of power. This process is needed especially in activities that increase the heart rate beyond 80% of its maximum. Examples of anaerobic sports include football, sprinting and wrestling. However, many athletes use both aerobic and anaerobic respiration during sports to produce energy.

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