How Does Lactic Acid Work?

How Does Lactic Acid Work?

We’ve all experienced it before during a race or workout. We’re feeling strong and about to have the race of our life when all of sudden our legs and body just shut down. Every step we take is like we have bricks strapped to our feet. And it always leaves us confused. So what happened to us during these races or workouts? You’ve probably heard of the terms lactic acid build up or lactate. This is what has been blamed for fatigue and soreness, along with other issues. In this article I’m going to discuss the ‘myths’ about lactate at threshold, how to slow down lactic acid build up, and how you can limit fatigue while improving your lactate clearance.

How does Lactic Acid work? The research done on this topic in the past produced false results. It wasn’t until recent that this topic was truly understood. So, while an excess accumulation of lactate contributes to why runners slow down at the end of races or workouts, lactic acid itself isn’t responsible for the muscle fatigue that causes us to slow down. Actually, lactate is actually a source of energy in a way. Our bodies break down glucose for energy and a byproduct of this process is lactate. For each lactate molecule created by the body, a single hydrogen ion is also created. These ions lower the blood pH and make the muscles acidic. When we run at an easy pace, our body is able to convert back and recycle this lactate into energy and take the ions with it. So, the production of lactate, and the clearance of the ions will stay constant for the most part while running at this easier pace. As we run faster and need more energy, the production of lactic will increase. Then at some point this production will soar and our bodies will no longer be able to convert lactate back into energy. Therefore, that heavy leg feeling we experience at the end of races and workouts is caused by the lactate not being able to grab the ions to reduce the concentration of it in the muscles. This acid irritates the muscles and causes pain and fatigue. How can we stop lactate from slowing us down in races or workouts?

Here are a few areas to work on:

• Develop the aerobic system.
All of this information proves that our aerobic strength is a big factor in performance. While our bodies have many mechanisms to slow down the acid produced, every single one of these are limited. However, increasing your aerobic system will majorly increase how fast and how far we can run. 

• Properly running threshold/tempo workouts.
Lactate has a bigger role than just causing fatigue and we need to understand the purpose of quality workouts at or faster than our lactate threshold. These type of workouts aren’t just running hard for the purpose of running hard. They train our bodies to produce, process, and burn lactate at a higher rate. The outcome of these workouts will improve our endurance during races or workouts.

• Learning how to push through the pain.
Even when maximizing our abilities to clear acid, there is no escaping the acid overload. We can run hard workouts and races to improve our ability to slow down the acid produced but everyone is still limited to the acidity in the muscles. To help get through this you will need to teach yourself how to push through the pain and fatigue. Remember, running is more mental than physical, so pushing through the pain is something you can learn to do. There will always be a ‘breaking points’ but that doesn’t mean you can’t get as close to this breaking point as possible.

The conclusion on lactic acid/lactate is that there’s technically no such thing as lactic acid production when racing racing and during workouts. Our bodies do produce this acid but it’s the lactate that is the main source for fatigue and pain.