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Monday, February 14, 2005

Lactic Acid – Your Misunderstood Friend? -- Training

Lactic Acid – Your Misunderstood Friend?

In a recent email newsletter from Joe Friel, there was a very interesting article about lactic acid that got me thinking, and even doing a little research!

Lactic Craptic!

According to this and several other articles, lactic acid isn’t the big, bad metabolic beast that we’ve been lead to believe it. We’ve all heard that the ‘burn’ you feel during intense efforts is lactic acid building up in your legs. Makes sense, right? Acid = burn!

Well, not really!

As it turns out, lactic acid is actually our friend. It’s responsible for helping to create more ATP (the energy our muscle cells use directly) and is more efficient at travelling between tissue (like our muscles) than glucose (the sugar ATP is made from.)

Lactic acid is constantly formed in and reabsorbed into our muscles all day long, but at much higher levels when we engage in very intense efforts, also known as anaerobic activity. (anaerobic = no oxygen)

During anaerobic glycolysis (the process of using/breaking down glucose as ‘fuel’ for our muscles) the glucose gets broken down to lactic acid and hydrogen ions. This is the surprise: it’s actually the hydrogen that causes problems! As it gets into the muscle tissue and surrounding blood, it creates an acid imbalance, which then leads to pain and discomfort and muscle fatigue. The lactic acid works in our favor once more, by helping to carry the hydrogen away, where it gets removed in the liver. Also, the lactic acid is used in the liver to form more glycogen. (Yay! More energy!)

Vegans May Have Their Bases Covered

I believe this leads to a strong argument for veganism in athletics. Since most plant-based foods are base-forming, and pretty much every animal product under the sun is acid-forming, by eating a plant-based diet, we’re keeping our bodies more alkaline, which results in a higher lactate threshold. I guess this means we can actually tolerate much more pain. (Ha! Who’s the tough one now, meathead?)

There’s some discussion of eating baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to add more base to your system if you perform anaerobic activities, but you need to consume 0.3 grams per kg of body weight…which would mean I would have to eat 21g… which is over 4 teaspoons.. yikes! If you want to experiment, you’ll need to consume it two hours before the event, and be sure to drink lots of water. Also make sure it isn’t a banned substance at your event, and that you don’t have a sensitivity to it. (Baking soda allergy anyone?)

Realistically though, the best thing you can do is train yourself to increase your lactate threshold. By performing regularly at levels that increase the amount of lactic acid, your body will adapt and be able to handle the load. This is best done through interval training, and maintaining close-to-anaerobic intensities for extended periods of time (8-20 minutes) and is typically 85-90% of your maximum heart rate. As an example, maintaining 80-85% of your max. HR for 8 minutes helps to gently and efficiently ‘push’ your lactate threshold up. Rinse and repeat!

This revelation also has some interesting effects on post-exercise activities: we’re familiar with having massages and Epsom baths, which are supposed to help disperse the lactic acid, but lactic acid doesn’t actually ‘sit’ in our muscles, it’s actually used and absorbed to create more ATP. Massage no doubt helps by keeping the blood flowing to help regenerate muscle tissue, but what do Epsom salts really do..?

Stupid Sounding Summary: Sing along! Lactic acid is my friend. It helps to make my legs bend. Not so great is hydrogen. It helps to eat my veggies then.

A vegan side note: it turns out that this myth was created by our old foe vivisection (aka animal testing). In 1929 Archibald V. Hill would flex frog muscles to fatigue, and noticed at that point lactic acid was formed and declared it the enemy. Stupid vivisector!

Further Reading . . .


At Sunday, April 24, 2005 5:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave...I can tell you how massage knits into what you posted. It is not about massage in general, but which type of massage. I am currently testing my theory in the athletic lab. My hypothesis, Swedish massage lowers the lactate threshold, the massage I have developed for triathletes and marathon runners raises the lactate threshold, slowing down the onset of the "wall".

At Thursday, August 04, 2005 11:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey "atp massage" ..... where do I find more info about your hypothesis? and... what is the massage you've developed? how do i get one? thanks...

At Thursday, October 27, 2005 12:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any comments on H wave therapy? H wave uses electrodes to contract muscles to increase blood flow. It is used after long races by the likes of Lance Armstrong to aid recovery.

At Thursday, April 05, 2007 10:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/16/health/nutrition/16run.html?ei=5070&en=199e9383014e4062&ex=1175918400&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1175787692-m50RormzKuvQ7T8D4cLD8A

"When he graduated and began working on a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, he decided to study the lactic acid hypothesis for his dissertation.

"I gave rats radioactive lactic acid, and I found that they burned it faster than anything else I could give them," Dr. Brooks said.

It looked as if lactic acid was there for a reason. It was a source of energy."

Sounds like the animal testing was used to show the opposite as well.

At Tuesday, June 02, 2009 8:31:00 PM, Blogger coleen said...

another vegan (former cyclist coming off an injury) athlete, esthetician, and nutrition nerd. i'll chime in on the epsom salt thing...

epsom salt is an alkaline forming substance. it can be taken internally as a laxative or used externally in packs and soaks and in skin care...and--here's where my skincare knowledge comes in--it is absorbed through the skin while soaking in amounts high enough to help create alkalinity both on the surface and internally, which takes down inflamation, which increases at least surface circulation. i suspect all this amounts to just moving undesirable substances around and out of the body really.

be sure you rinse off after--skin that is too alkaline is more less protected against fungal infection and dry/cracked conditions. rinsing will help restore ph of the acid mantel protecting your skin.

pretty neat!


At Friday, December 04, 2009 8:20:00 PM, Blogger Dave Shishkoff said...

Here's a new posting relevant to this subject:


At Friday, June 03, 2011 3:06:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've only been vegan for 4 years now but I've suddenly realised that I don't seem to suffer from cramp anymore (touch wood). I don't think I have increased my resistance although I am exercising more to be fair. I'm pretty sure it's due to the vegan diet.



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Dave Shishkoff
aka Dave Noisy
Victoria, BC

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