What to Eat to Reduce Lactic Acid During a Workout

After exercise, the body naturally produces lactic acid, or lactate. There's not one magic food that reduces lactic acid buildup during exercise, but factors like warming up before a workout and eating a balanced diet can enhance performance.

Following a balanced diet is important for optimal exercise performance. (Image: Mariha-kitchen/iStock/GettyImages)

According to Healthline, a balanced diet of fresh foods, leans meats and whole grains that are high in vitamin B, fatty acid and potassium, may help get rid of lactic acid in the muscles, especially when the food is consumed around the time of exercise.

Lactic Acid Production 101

It's a common misconception that lactic acid causes soreness in the body. Although lactic acid production does occur after a hard workout, it doesn't directly cause tired muscles. Here's how the body produces lactic acid, or lactate:

  • Muscles store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, which comes from food.
  • At the start of your workout, your body breaks down glycogen into glucose.
  • Cells break down glucose even more, converting it into pyruvate and lactate.
  • Pyruvate then enters cells in the muscles called mitochondria, and adenosine triphosphate

    (ATP) — an energy-creating compound — is formed. But there's a limit to how much pyruvate the mitochondria take up and turn into ATP.

  • This is where lactate is important. When the mitochondria cannot accept any more pyruvate to convert to ATP, the body produces more lactic acid in muscles to compensate. Muscles use lactate for energy, and the mitochondria turn it back to pyruvate. The more mitochondria, the more lactate that can be taken up and used for energy during exercise.

What Is Lactic Acidosis?

Even though the production of lactic acid from intense physical activity doesn't necessarily cause muscle soreness, it can lead to lactic acidosis, which creates an imbalance in the body's pH level.

This overproduction of lactic acid happens when there's not enough oxygen in the muscles to break down glucose and glycogen. This is referred to as anaerobic metabolism.

Symptoms may include body weakness, muscle cramps or pain, exhaustion or extreme fatigue, headache, diarrhea and more. The best way to prevent lactic acidosis from exercise is by staying hydrated and resting between exercise sessions.

What to Do Before a Workout

Eat Carbohydrates: Starting an exercise session after a fast, such as first thing in the morning, can lead to fatigue. Have complex carbohydrates before a workout, such as beans, vegetables or grains, to give your body some fuel.

Add Protein and Fat: The experts at Healthline also point to protein and fat to fuel your workout. Protein consumed before a workout is thought to improve performance, and fat is regarded as a source of fuel for moderate- to low-intensity exercise. Consuming a balanced diet with small, frequent meals is a healthy strategy that can yield stable blood sugar and energy levels.

Hydrate: Don't forget to hydrate. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you drink at least 500 milliliters of water two hours before your workout.

Warm Up: Warming up before a strenuous workout increases your body temperature and limbers up your muscles in preparation for the exercise to come.

What to Do During a Workout

Stay hydrated during your workout to keep your body functioning optimally. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, water losses due to sweating during exercise should be replaced at a rate equal to the sweat rate.

By working out regularly and continually increasing your body's tolerance to exercise, you will become more efficient at taking up lactate.

What to Do After a Workout

Eat: To help your muscles recover, eat a meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein within two hours of your exercise session. Appropriate options include yogurt and fruit, a peanut butter sandwich, a smoothie and turkey on whole-grain bread with vegetables.

Hydrate: Drink about two to three cups of water after your workout for every pound you lose during the workout.

Cool Down: Cooling down doesn't necessarily prevent lactic acid buildup, but it does prevent blood from pooling in the lower extremities. During intense exercise, blood vessels can expand in the legs and cause blood to pool if you suddenly stop exercise, which can then lead to dizziness or fainting.

Diet Goals for Exercise

Make sure to consume a balanced diet that meets your calorie needs to maintain energy levels and reach performance goals. If your calorie intake doesn't meet your needs, the result can be loss of muscle mass, increased risk of fatigue and injury, and prolonged recovery. Carbohydrates easily break down into glucose, the best energy source used by the muscles and brain. A carbohydrate-containing snack can help fuel your workout.

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