Is lactic acid harmful? A few of my clients have asked for intra-workout products that help control lactic acid buildup in the muscles.
– Cole M., Personal Trainer/Supplement Store Owner
I’m glad you asked. There are several myths about lactic acid that just won’t go away. Here’s where the confusion starts: As exercise intensity increases, lactate increases, and thus fatigue increases also. So, it’s obvious that lactate causes fatigue, right? Not so fast. Let’s set the record straight.
Top 4 Lactic Acid Myths
Lactic acid builds up in your muscles and makes them burn out.
This is the most popular myth regarding lactic acid. High school coaches all over the world have perpetuated it, but it’s false because lactic acid is gone within an hour of exercise. Sometimes the soreness in your muscles doesn’t kick in for a day or two. That soreness is called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and it’s caused because of microscopic tears, which are necessary for the regeneration of bigger, stronger muscle fibers.
Lactic acid is a harmful waste product in the body.
It’s actually fuel. Muscle cells convert glucose or glycogen to lactic acid. During high-intensity exercise (weight training), the muscles make energy for contraction anaerobically (without oxygen) and this leads to lactic acid production. However, aerobic exercises (cardio) produce energy using oxygen and therefore create very little lactic acid.
Lactic acid causes fatigue.
The extra stress caused by intense training and endurance exercise actually burns more lactic acid and allows muscles to work harder for longer. Lactic acid also helps you get rid of carbohydrates from your diet without increasing insulin or stimulating fat synthesis. Not only does it not cause fatigue, it’s actually a very fast fuel that can be used to athletes’ advantage during exercise.
Lactic acid and lactate are the same thing.
This is false. The body produces lactate, which is lactic acid minus one proton. Without getting too scientific here, when your body produces “lactic acid,” it splits into a lactate ion and hydrogen ion. The hydrogen ion acts as a disrupter by interfering with electrical signals in your muscles and nerves, slowing energy reactions and impairing muscle contractions. That burning sensation you feel during intense exercise is caused by a buildup of hydrogen ions. So, what about the lactate ion, you ask? Lactate is one of the most important fuels utilized by the heart and muscles during exercise. Yes, lactate is actually the good guy. Unfortunately, lactic acid has a bad reputation. But hopefully that will start to change now.
• Muscles make lactate
• Muscles produce it from glucose
• Muscles burn it to obtain energy
• Lactic acid is fuel for the body during rest and exercise
• Lactic acid is your friend
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Yours in Good Health,
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