If you have ever played organized sports or had a personal training session, then you may have had your coach or trainer talk about lactic acid. In simple terms, lactic acid occurs in muscles during strenuous exercise. When oxygen has been used up in the bloodstream, carbohydrates are broken down to create energy. This causes a pH imbalance that is the reason for the term lactic acid.
Lactic acid is thought of as something that needs to be cleaned up after a workout. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad thing. In fact, it is a common misconception that the soreness which occurs after a workout has something to do with lactic acid. However, there is a potential muscle condition called “lactic acidosis” which is not desirable. But let’s first take an in-depth look at lactic acid.
A Closer Look at Lactate
Overall, lactate produces a more positive effect on muscles than negative. Lactate occurs as a result of a natural process when muscles undergo strenuous exercise. In these instances, your body needs a useable fuel called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Breaking down ATP causes your body to make a chemical compound called pyruvate. Pyruvate generally goes into the Krebs cycle to produce more ATP, but this requires more oxygen.
Pyruvate becomes lactate when there isn’t enough oxygen to create more ATP. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because lactate can eventually be metabolized for energy. But while you are doing those intense reps at the gym, for instance, your body may not be clearing lactate to the same level as it is produced. This causes the muscle environment to become more acidic, and it may be the cause of a burning sensation during an intense workout.
Preventing Lactic Acidosis
While a fair amount of lactic acid in your muscles is no problem for your body to handle, it is still important to avoid a possible scenario called lactic acidosis. Symptoms of lactic acidosis are a burning feeling in muscles, cramps, nausea, weakness, and exhaustion. Lactic acidosis can occur when lactate floods the muscles and is not released properly. This may happen when the amount of lactate surpasses what is referred to as the “lactate threshold.” Lactic acidosis is most often caused by serious medical conditions, such as seizures, liver failure, and vitamin B deficiency, not an intense workout.
But it’s never a bad idea to be cautious when engaging in high-intensity exercise. There are plenty of ways you can encourage your body to handle lactate properly. First, don’t push yourself beyond your abilities, and make sure to stay hydrated while exercising. A balanced diet is also of utmost importance because it is the fuel you use while exercising. You also need plenty of rest during recovery, too. And while being physically active, it is smart to warm down right away if you feel an onset of intense muscle soreness.
If you do feel significant muscle soreness a couple days after a workout it is likely not related to lactate or lactic acid at all. DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle tenderness, refers to extreme muscle tenderness as well as a loss of strength and range of motion that occurs between one to three days after an extreme exercise event. The specific cause of DOMS is not confirmed, although researchers believe the sensation of soreness is caused by the damaging of cells that are busy repairing themselves.
In conclusion, lactic acid is nothing to fear for a person undergoing a healthy level of exercise. Lactate or lactic acid is not a nasty substance just waiting to mess up your poor muscles’ functioning. Instead, it is a normal part of your body breaking down carbohydrates for energy during anaerobic exercise. While there is little harm in blaming muscle soreness on lactic acid, the truth is that this is a bit of a misnomer. So don’t fret the next time your muscles are sore after a great workout. Just remember: they are simply creating a better version of themselves!