The Truth about Lactic Acid

The other day, I did a presentation on Sports Nutrition and I realized most athletes still believe that lactic acid or more specifically, lactate, is a villain. Athletes still believe their muscles are filled with lactic acid after a hard workout. However, lactic acid leaves your body within an hour if not within in minutes after exercise. Lactate is a fuel for your muscles, muscles make it deliberately. A well-trained athlete is more efficient at storing muscle glycogen and more efficient at producing and absorbing lactic acid. A simplistic explanation is lactate is the middle man; it is used as a building block in the liver to produce more liver glycogen. Liver glycogen is broken down into glucose, glucose is used as energy, and the utilization of glucose for energy creates lactic acid. (For a more thorough explanation, Google, Cori Cycle)
Lactic acid is not the cause of your muscles burning, it is not the cause of soreness, and it is not a waste product. Muscle soreness is due to damaged muscle cells, calcium leakage, and post exercise inflammation due to damaged muscle cells during intense exercise. The “burn” you feel is caused by hydrogen ions which are determined by which fuel source you are using: glycogen or glucose. If your body is using glycogen (glycogen is stored in your muscles and is broken down to glucose for energy) only one unit of hydrogen is released. If glucose is used as fuel, than your body releases two units of hydrogen; this doubling of hydrogen ions creates a huge acidic swing resulting in a burning sensation in your muscles and ultimately causing fatigue. This fatigue occurs when glucose is called on to produce energy when your glycogen stores are low or the exercise is so intense that your glycogen stores cannot keep up with the demand. Regardless of which fuel source your body is using, glycogen or glucose, the same amount of lactic acid is released. Bottom line, lactic acid is your friend and a source of fuel for your body during intense exercise.
“The world’s best athletes stay competitive by interval training. The intense exercise generates big lactate loads, and the body adapts by building up mitochondria to clear lactic acid quickly. If you use it up [as an energy source], it doesn’t accumulate.” ~ George A. Brooks, UC Berkley Professor of integrative biology. Dr. Brooks has been researching lactate and the lactate shuttle for years, for more information on Dr. Brooks



Filed under Health Benefits, Nutrition, Sports Nutrition

2 responses to “The Truth about Lactic Acid

  1. I love reading your Blog Deb. Always good stuff.

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