Many still believe that muscle fatigue and soreness during and following intense exercise is caused by lactic acid buildup, and this theory has too long gone unquestioned. But what exactly is the truth about lactic acid that has been getting a bad rap for years?
MYTH #1: LACTIC ACID IS A BY-PRODUCT OF ANAEROBIC METABOLISM
Most people associate lactic acid with strenuous exercises and consider it is a by-product of glycolysis, a metabolic process used by the body to produce energy during intense physical activity. However, lactic acid is the term used to collectively describe the lactate and hydrogen ions that are the actual by-products of this process.
MYTH #2: THE SENSATION OF THE “BURN” IS CAUSED BY LACTIC ACID BUILDUP
When you feel the “burn” during heavy exercise, it means that hydrogen ions build up, not lactic acid. When we engage in strenuous activities, our body breaks down ATP for energy, and hydrogen ions are released. When all of the oxygen available in the body is used up by our muscles, our body can’t keep up with breaking down the hydrogen ions fast enough. The buildup of hydrogen ions makes the environment acidic, causing the “burn.”
MYTH #3: LACTIC ACID OR LACTATE IS WASTE PRODUCT AND CAUSES MUSCLE FATIGUE
Lactic acid, specifically lactate, was thought to be a waste product of muscle activity. However, lactate produced in the muscle cells is recycled into glucose and reuse by our bodies as a source of energy for our muscles. Lactate helps delay muscle fatigue rather than causes it.
MYTH #4: LACTIC ACID CAUSES MUSCLE SORENESS
Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS is the result of exercise-induced muscle damage, which triggers an inflammatory response, leading to swelling and soreness that peaks a day or two following a hard workout and resolves a few days later, depending on the severity of the damage. Most exercises can result in soreness, but those that put emphasis on lengthening or eccentric contraction, such as downhill running, will result in more severe DOMS.
Lactate concentration would gradually return to normal within minutes after exercise, but the right cool-down and recovery can help speed up the process: to increase circulation and reduce the acidity that’s associated with lactate. A study demonstrated that active recovery after strenuous exercise clears blood lactate levels faster than passive recovery, with maximum clearance at active recovery close to the lactate threshold. To kick-start recovery, perform moderate exercises during the recovery period and include Recovapro in your active recovery strategy to increase rate of lactate removal.
CREDIT: Background image by Grzegorz Rakowski/Unsplash