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Lactic Acid: Your Misunderstood Endurance Training Buddy

Updated: Jun 4, 2023



Grab your running shoes, hop on your bike, or hit the pool, cause we're gonna dive into the world of our misunderstood friend, lactic acid!


Lactic acid is the notorious troublemaker that haunts the dreams of endurance athletes worldwide. It has been vilified, blamed for muscle soreness, and even accused of causing the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon (okay, maybe not that last one). But fear not, dear fellow athlete! In this delightful and slightly tongue-in-cheek blog post, we shall unravel the mysteries surrounding lactic acid, exploring what it is (and isn't), its true causes, and how endurance athletes can boost their lactic acid tolerance.


Demystifying Lactic Acid:

Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid is not some nefarious chemical concoction to sabotage your workout gains. In fact, it doesn't even exist! Yes, you heard it right. What we commonly refer to as "lactic acid" is, in fact, lactate—an innocent byproduct of the energy-producing process in our muscles. So, let's set the record straight: it's lactate, not lactic acid, that we should be talking about.


The Culprit Behind Lactate Production:

Now that we've debunked the lactic acid myth, let's explore the true cause of lactate production. During intense exercise, our muscles rely heavily on glucose as a source of energy. However, when oxygen supply cannot meet the demand (as in high-intensity activities), glucose undergoes a process called anaerobic glycolysis. This process rapidly breaks down glucose, producing ATP (the energy currency of cells) and a byproduct: good ol' lactate.


Lactic Acid's Unfair Reputation:

So, why does lactate have such a bad reputation? Blame it on its best pal, hydrogen ions. When lactate is produced, it releases hydrogen ions, which can decrease muscle pH, leading to that burning sensation we've all come to associate with lactate. But here's the kicker: lactate itself isn't the cause of muscle fatigue. It can even serve as a valuable source of energy during exercise.


This may sound counterintuitive, considering the common belief that lactate is responsible for muscle fatigue. However, it highlights an important aspect of lactate metabolism and its role in providing energy to working muscles.


During high-intensity exercise, when oxygen supply is limited, the breakdown of glucose through anaerobic glycolysis produces lactate. In the past, lactate was often considered a waste product that leads to fatigue. However, current research suggests a more nuanced understanding of lactate's function.


First, lactate itself does not directly cause muscle fatigue. The burning sensation often associated with high lactate levels is actually due to the accumulation of hydrogen ions, a byproduct of lactate formation. This decrease in muscle pH can contribute to the sensation of fatigue but is not caused by lactate itself.


Second, lactate serves as a valuable source of energy during exercise. While it was once thought that lactate was solely a waste product, we now know that it can be taken up by other working muscles and used as fuel. Lactate produced in one muscle can be transported to other muscles, the heart, or even the liver, where it can be converted back into glucose through a process called the Cori cycle. This glucose can then be used as energy by the body.


In fact, lactate can be a preferred energy source for specific tissues, such as the heart and type I (slow-twitch) muscle fibers. These tissues have a high density of mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of the cells responsible for converting lactate into usable energy. This ability to convert lactate into energy makes it an efficient and valuable resource for the body during intense exercise.


So, while lactate has been unfairly blamed for muscle fatigue, it actually plays a crucial role in energy metabolism. It's not the enemy we once thought it to be. Instead, it's a misunderstood ally that helps provide fuel to working muscles and contributes to our overall endurance.


Boosting Lactic Acid Tolerance:

Now that we've set the record straight let's focus on improving our endurance by enhancing lactic acid tolerance. Here are some effective workouts to help you become the boss of lactate:

  1. Interval Training: Embrace the "sprint and recover" strategy by alternating between high-intensity bursts and active recovery periods. This challenges your body to tolerate higher lactate levels and improves your ability to clear it efficiently.

  2. Tempo Runs: These steady-state runs at a comfortably challenging pace are ideal for increasing lactate threshold. Imagine running like a well-tuned engine—smooth and steady, while lactate is effortlessly managed.

  3. Hill Repeats: Conquer those hills with a smile (or a grimace, whatever suits you) by incorporating hill repeats into your training. The uphill battle triggers intense muscle contractions, boosting lactate production and your ability to handle it.

  4. Circuit Training: Unleash your inner superhero with a circuit workout combining strength exercises with cardio bursts. This explosive combination pushes your lactate tolerance to new heights while adding a touch of adventure to your training routine.


So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, lactic acid—it's time to clear its name! Lactate, the misunderstood sidekick of our muscular endeavors, is not the villain it's made out to be. So, the next time you feel that familiar burn, remember that it's a sign of your hard work paying off, not some malevolent acid out to get you. Lactate, with its trusty partner-in-crime, hydrogen ions, is just playing its part in the grand symphony of exercise physiology.


And remember, when it comes to boosting your lactic acid tolerance, embrace the humor in your workouts. Laugh in the face of lactate and conquer those hills, intervals, and tempo runs. Your endurance will thank you, and you'll have a good chuckle along the way.


Happy training, and may your endurance adventures be filled with laughter and lactate!

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