Lactic Acid

As our bodies perform strenuous exercise, we begin to breathe faster as we attempt to shuttle more oxygen to our working muscles. The body prefers to generate most of its energy using aerobic methods, meaning with oxygen. Some circumstances, however, such as lifting heavy weights, require energy production faster than our bodies can adequately deliver oxygen. In those cases, the working muscles generate energy anaerobically. This energy comes from glucose through a process called glycolysis, in which glucose is broken down or metabolized into a substance called pyruvate through a series of steps.

When the body has plenty of oxygen, pyruvate is shuttled to an aerobic pathway to be further broken down for more energy. But when oxygen is limited, the body temporarily converts pyruvate into a substance called lactate, which allows glucose breakdown, and thus energy production, to continue. The working muscle cells can continue this type of anaerobic energy production at high rates for one to three minutes, during which time lactate can accumulate to high levels.

Contrary to popular opinion, lactate or, as it is often called, lactic acid buildup is not responsible for the muscle soreness felt in the days following strenuous exercise. Rather, the production of lactate and other metabolites during extreme exertion results in the burning sensation often felt in active muscles, though which exact metabolites are involved remains unclear. This often painful sensation also gets us to stop overworking the body, thus forcing a recovery period in which the body clears the lactate and other metabolites.

Methods to reduce Lactic Acid:

1) Stay hydrated: Lactic acid is water soluble, so the more hydrated you are, the less likely you are to feel a burn while you workout and cause lactic acid build up.

2) Breathe deeply: The cause of the burning sensation you feel in your muscles while exercising is twofold: it is partly due to the build up of lactic acid, but it is also due to a lack of oxygen.

3) Work out frequently: The more physically fit you are, the less glucose your body will need to burn and there will be less acid build up.

4) Be cautious when lifting weights: Weight lifting is an activity that tends to promote lactic acid build up because it requires more oxygen than our bodies can deliver.

5) Decrease the intensity: Decrease the intensity of your workout if you start to feel a burn. The burning sensation you feel during intense exercise is the body’s defense mechanism trying to prevent overexertion.

6) Stretch after your workout: Since lactic acid disperses 30 minutes to an hour after your workout, stretching helps to release lactic acid, alleviating any burning sensations or muscle cramps you might be experiencing.

7) Stay active: Rest after your workout, but lead an active life. Muscles need activity as well as oxygen and water to stay healthy. If you feel a burn in your muscles occasionally, there is no cause for alarm; lactic acid in small amounts is not damaging to your body and may even have some beneficial effects on your metabolism.

8) Increase your magnesium intake: The mineral magnesium is essential for proper energy production within the body. Healthy magnesium levels will help the body to deliver energy to the muscles while exercising, thus limiting the build up of lactic acid. Therefore, you should make an effort to increase your daily magnesium intake, preferably through your diet.

9) Eat foods rich in fatty acids: A healthy intake of foods rich in fatty acids helps the body to break down glucose, a process which is essential for normal energy production. This can help to limit the body’s need for lactic acid during a tough workout and keep you going for longer.

10) Eat foods containing B vitamins: B vitamins are useful in transporting glucose around the body, which helps to fuel the muscles during a workout, thus reducing the need for lactic acid.

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