What is lactic acid?

Many beginner and other athletes have no idea what processes occur in their bodies when they do load exercises. E.g, let’s discuss the topic of lactic acid. Most athletes consider it to be a “pain in the neck” for those who wish gaining the muscle mass. How does this process occur, why do bodybuilders take a dim view on lactic acid and is this right to do so?

The theoretical issues on lactic acid

For sure, you know that feeling when on the day after an intense work-out (or a load after a long break) it’s very hard to exercise. You can’t even move your arms or legs and don’t want to either. Lactic acid is usually blamed for this “shame”. But let’s consider if this is right.

So, lactic acid is a transparent liquid that is a by-product of the body’s activity. It occurs in all exercised muscles after intensive load. The volume of lactic acid in the muscles is directly related to the duration of intensive activity and also the exercise intensity.

For feeding the body with plenty of energy glucose is required. It is broken down (released energy) and lactate is the by-product of this process. In case of intense exercises, the lactate can’t be fully eliminated out of the body so by the end of the work-out the concentration reaches the level when pain receptors feel the burning and the athlete feels uncomfortable. A small break allows for reducing this lactic acid level, but not to the initial value. So the more a bodybuilder exercises, the more lactic acid is accumulated in his or her muscles.

Important: Experience has proven that lactic acid accumulation begins after to build after a 30 second load work-out. Also it is claimed that lactic acid affects the exercising efficiency and hinders the muscle growth as muscles can’t work in full force (due to the pain). But this is not quite right. After the set has finished the blood is transported to the exercised muscles and removes lactic acid. With the blood it is transported to the liver where is transformed into glucose and then is used by the body as an energy source. This closed process is called Cori cycle.

This cycle increases the blood acidity and stimulates the rejuvenating processes so as positively influences the overall tone.

Important: According to several experiments and researches, pain does not indicate that there is a reasonable load on the muscle and the exercise is efficient.

There is such a sports term as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It involves unpleasant pain that occurs every time when muscles get an unusual load such as, new exercises, increased number of repetitions or longer exercising. This phenomenon is caused by micro ruptures in muscle tissues. This leads to increased body reserves, accelerated release of hormones (required for inhibition of inflammations and        healing) and protein synthesis. These process provide the muscle growth.

Another question that may arise is that, If DOMS is an indicator of muscle growth, then the pain should appear after every exercise? Not so simple. The human body can adapt to any conditions so sooner or later common loads won’t cause muscle pain. But don’t blame yourself as your body has adapted to the load so it is not so efficient as before. In whole if you need a constant confirmation of exercises in form of muscle pain, don’t stick to one training program too long (longer than 2-3 months). Also the exercise intensity should be increased for such an effect.

Now let’s deal with the myths about lactic acid that is popular among athletes. The first one is “lactic acid kills the muscles”. Is this true? The thing is that lactic acid generation is a natural process of energy generation for overcoming stress so the above-mentioned is false. But it also has some drawbacks. Thus, lactic acid is decomposed into hydrogen ions and lactate anions that cause these unpleasant feelings. They slow down the electric signals from the brain to muscles so this causes weariness. This is caused not by the lactic acid itself, but by its degradation products.

If speaking about lactic acid lactate, it is very useful as the body uses it as fuel. Besides this, lactate is involved in the carbohydrate inflow. If it is used in pure form, an impressive result can be gained and all recovery processes in the body are accelerated and the capacity is improved.

So skillful control of lactic acid can increase the energy level significantly and make your muscles feel like new.

Interesting facts about lactic acid

But before using the full power of the method for increasing the exercise efficiency let’s deal with some theoretical basics. So firstly let’s consider the 5 facts that every athlete should know.

Lactic acid does not cause cramps or muscle pain.

The painful feelings on the next day after the work-out are caused by micro damage of the muscles. Dead bits of the muscles are accumulated gradually and then are eliminated out of the body. Cramps are caused by accumulated weariness and excess of dead muscle cells. So please note that lactic acid (lactate, to be more precise) is an energy source that is highly consumed during exercising and after them (during recovery).

Glucose breakdown => lactic acid formation

During glucose breakdown the body produces ATF. It provides the energy for many chemical reactions in the body. Lactic acid is formed without oxygen. ATF production with lactate is a very fast process, but it is perfect for satisfying the energy needs of the body (even if you work at full capacity).

Plenty of oxygen is required for lactic acid formation

As known, if the exercise intensity is increased, then white muscle fibers will be mainly active (carbohydrates are required for traction). So the higher is the exercise intensity, the more lactic acid is produced. This means that lactic acid is transported to blood much faster than removed. Oxygen does not influence these processes.

Lactic acid is formed by carbohydrate breakdown

The lactic acid volume depends on the speed of glycogen and glucose breakdown. Usually after intense exercises the body uses fat tissues for generating energy. In case of an extreme load the body is fueled by carbohydrates. As a result, the more carbohydrates are broken down, the more lactic acid is formed.

Proper exercising allows removing lactic acid from muscles

This is true. The result can be achieved within the following ways:

  • Increased exercise intensity;
  • Enough rest between sets;
  • Proper load alternation.

For fast and efficient removal of lactic acid from muscles do appropriate exercises (super-sets and weight-losing sets).

Accelerated removal of lactic acid is possible when cardio and high-volume load exercises are alternated. Please note that the more lactic acid is accumulated, the better it is (it stimulates ferment generation so that lactic acid can be used as fuel).

So an efficient training program should be set in such a way that lactic acid would be eliminated out of the body already during the work-out. So the body needs lactic acid (lactate, to be more precise); moreover, an efficient exercise is impossible without it. No wonder as lactate:

  • Is a fuel required for the muscles and heart during exercises;
  • Required for the liver to synthesize glycogen;
  • Is one of important components included into many sports drinks;
  • It causes muscle weariness and at the same time, it also prevents it.

How to remove lactic acid? Practical recommendations

A lot of beginners at the gym feel uncomfortable almost all the time during work-outs. But simple advice (below) allows making exercises more comfortable and minimizing adverse feelings. So to keep a low lactic acid level do the following:

  • Start the work-out with a warm-up. It should be light and warning;
  • Stretch after each exercise, after completing the full set;
  • Gradually increase the load as your muscles will get used to this;
  • Don’t miss work-outs so your muscles will adapt to the loads;
  • Take time to fully recover after each work-out.

That’s all. If you follow simple advice and the given information, you will have no problems with controlling the strongest catalyst of exercise intensity.

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Robert Green

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