When you exercise, you rely on your muscles to produce the energy to power you through a daily run, weight lifting routine or sports game. If you don’t get enough oxygen to your tissue, your muscles start to produce lactic acid. Many misconceptions surround lactic acid, including that it causes next-day muscle soreness hours after your workout. Instead, it can make your muscles ache during the moments when you are exercising. You may wish to train in a way that stops just short of lactic acid production, which is possible if you listen to your body. Before undertaking any changes to your exercise program, always consult your physician.
Several steps have to happen before your body produces lactic acid. When you are exercising strenuously, your body’s tissue starts to break down glucose, a stored form of energy. Glucose is further broken down into a substance called pyruvate before your body can fully use it. If your tissue has enough oxygen, the body can use pyruvate and other substances the body breaks down for energy. But sometimes your body does not have oxygen. When this is the case, pyruvate is converted into lactate, which also is known as lactic acid.
Lactic Acid: Good or Bad?
In some ways, lactic acid is a good thing because the acid gives your body energy. In others, it is considered harmful because lactic acid has an acidic pH, which can affect your muscles' ability to work. This is your body’s defense mechanism encouraging you to slow down during vigorous exercise. When you do, your body discontinues lactic acid production. Although lactic acid once was linked with causing muscle soreness 24 to 48 hours after exercise, this is considered a misconception. However, lactic acid can contribute to muscle pain during exercise as a way for your body to indicate it needs additional oxygen.
Stopping Lactic Acid Production
If lactic acid production has begun, you can stop it by exercising less vigorously. Slowing down allows your lungs to take in the needed oxygen to keep pyruvate from turning into lactic acid. When you are exercising, it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment where you are producing lactic acid. However, burning muscles and trouble catching your breath can be two signs you may need to slow down slightly.
One of the methods coaches recommend to discourage lactic acid production while exercising is to stay just under the “lactic acid threshold,” according to “The New York Times.” Some athletes even use blood tests to determine the level at which their bodies switch to lactic acid. While you can exercise just enough before your body produces lactic acid, remember lactic acid for what it is: a form of energy. Some athletes today even train in varying intensities to help their bodies adjust to using lactic acid more effectively.