Lactic Acid and Muscles


When you workout, we begin to breathe faster to help the body pump more oxygen to the muscles. At times, when we do strenuous exercises or lift weights, the muscles need more oxygen than what the body can deliver. To fulfil this excessive energy requirement; the body generates energy using a process called glycolysis. This process completes several steps to break down glucose into a substance called pyruvate. When the body has abundant supply of oxygen, pyruvate is broken down to provide more energy to the body. However, when the supply of oxygen is limited, pyruvate is converted into a substance called lactate, which is required to breakdown glucose to produce more energy.

Even though lactate helps in producing more energy, high lactate levels can disrupt other metabolites and increase the acidity level of muscle cells. In acidic environment, the pathways that convert glucose into energy performs poorly. This may seem counterproductive but in reality, it is a defense mechanism used by the body to prevent muscle damage when extreme pressure is exerted on it. Once the pressure on the muscle eases, the lactate is converted back pyruvate which allows the body to produce energy at normal rate.

Contrary to what many people believe, lactate or lactic acid is not responsible for muscle soreness. Actually, the production of lactate and several other metabolites is responsible for burning sensation. This painful sensation in the active muscles is a signal to stop overworking our body and give it the rest it needs.

Studies conducted to examine the effect of lactic acid on muscle soreness have found that lactic acid levels have little or no correlation with muscle soreness. Some people experience severe muscle tenderness about 24 to 72 hours after they do strenuous exercise because of delayed-onset muscle soreness. At times, strenuous exercise can also affect the strength and range of muscle movement.

Though the exact cause of delayed-onset muscle soreness is not known, studies have shown that muscle damage and increased release of metabolites into the tissues that surround the muscle cells can cause muscle soreness. The response of the body to extreme exercise results in soreness and swelling which can peak within 72 hours. The swelling and pain will subside a few days after the event.

Reduce Lactic Acid Build Up

You can take the following steps to reduce lactic acid build up:

Drink Plenty of Water

Since lactate is water soluble, you will feel less burn after workout if your body id hydrated. You must drink plenty of fluids before and during workout. Drink at least 8 oz. water before you start exercising and at least 6 oz. of water for every 15 minutes you workout.

Increase work out frequency

If you work out more frequently, your body will need less glucose to generate energy which will reduce the chances of acidic build up.

Don’t increase the duration and intensity of workout suddenly

Your workout plan must increase the duration of your workout gradually. When you increase the duration and intensity of your workout gradually, your body burns less glucose and will stay hydrated.

Understand the side effects of lifting weights

If you are planning to lift weights, you must understand that it will lead to the build up of lactic acid because the body is not able to produce enough oxygen. This can cause soreness and micro-tears which can last for several days. So consult a good instructor before you prepare your workout routine, as it will help in minimizing the damage caused by lifting weights.

Decrease intensity if you are uncomfortable

If you feel uncomfortable when you are working out, it is best that you reduce the intensity of your workout. When you feel uncomfortable, the body is trying to tell you that you are overexerting. When you decrease the intensity, more oxygen will be delivered to the muscles which will reduce the release of lactate.

Do stretching exercises

When you do stretching exercises, if can help in reducing micro-trauma that is responsible for soreness after workout.

Active lifestyle

Even though you must give your body the rest it needs after workout, but you must lead active lifestyle. If you do regular exercise, the body releases lactate in small amounts which do not harm the body.


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