When starting in the body building/weight lifting community you will hear these terms often.
Here is my layman's explanation.
Anabolic simply means that you are building or creating new.
It can be the building of tissue, cells and/or organs.
Examples would be growth of muscle tissue (mass) or building up body size.
Catabolic is the break down of molecules/cells in your body.
Catabolism is what helps the body produce energy. It is the break down of large molecules in to smaller pieces, and those pieces are stored as glycogen or fatty acids.
If you do not add nutrients to the body when you are catabolic you will
rid the body of these pieces (Viola! - Weight Loss).
You can not have both Anabolic and Catabolic processes occuring at the same time. (This is why you are either bulking or cutting)
Although true, your body will switch between the two by signals it gets.
Guess what these signals are called.....Hormones!
The vehicle that delivers these hormones is your Metabolism.
Metabolism is, primarily, the chemical changes that occur within the tissue of the body.
Enzymes drive metabolism and those enzymes come from nutrition -- but that is a conversation for another day/post.
Now, back to the Hormones!
Anabolic hormones include (And I know you've heard of these)...
Insulin Growth Factors (IGF's)
Catabolic hormones would include...
When anabolism exceeds catabolism - growth occurs.
When catabolism exceeds anabolism - a loss of size/weight occurs.
As a side note....Sports nutrition primarily targets anti-catabolic training methods and nutrients.
For example, when you train and break down the muscle fibers, high levels of cortisol is released, speeding up the breakdown of tissues.
L-Glutamine has been shown to reduce the effects of cortisol, resulting in reduced tissue breakdown. Also, some antioxidants have anti-catabolic effects, as does high protein and all around good nutrition.
What this means to you is that you recover faster, have a better level of performance AND increase mass!
A word of caution...
Do not confuse the term Anabolic to mean AA's or AAS.
(These are abbreviations for Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids)
Steroids are man-made substances related to male sex hormones.
“Anabolic” refers to muscle-building.
“Androgenic” refers to increased masculine characteristics. (Hair growth, voice change, sex drive, etc.)