I know I’ve already done something about fitness myths recently… but there is one that I missed that really drives me crazy, and I’ve been hearing it quite a bit lately.
Lactic Acid is EVIL!
Okay, maybe I haven’t heard it in exactly those words, but I keep hearing people making preposterous statements about lactic acid doing everything from causing muscle soreness the next day to staying in your muscles for days or weeks and causing anything from muscle cramps to nerve pain. I’ve been told that you need to foam roll your muscles to get rid of the lactic acid to improve your flexibility, and that you need to get massages to help get rid of the lactic acid from your past workouts. The problem is, many people don’t realize that NONE OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE!!
What is Lactic Acid?
First thing to talk about is what lactic acid actually is as it relates to exercise. Here’s the thing – it isn’t really “lactic acid” – it is lactate. Lactate is a byproduct of metabolism. More specifically your body breaks down glucose for energy, part of that process produces lactate.
What Doesn’t it Do?
First off, it does NOT build up and sit in your muscle tissue. It is quickly metabolized and used after it is produced as soon as there is enough oxygen in the system to put it to work. You do not need to use a foam roller or get an expensive massage to get rid of lactic acid in your muscles – it is already gone.
Next it does NOT cause muscle soreness the next day. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, is caused by damage done to the muscle fibers on a cellular level by the exercise that your performed. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with lactic acid.
Finally it doesn’t actually cause the “burn” that you feel when you are working out. The “burn” that you feel is actually a result of an accumulation of excess hydrogen atoms dumped as a result of breaking down ATP (an energy source in your body). That creates an acidic environment, hence the “burning” feeling.
What Does it Do?
Basically it is another type of fuel for your body. It can be used by muscle cells and brain cells and converted into another chemical called pyruvate and then used as fuel in the Kreb’s Cycle, or it can go through another cycle where it is converted back to glucose then used again for energy. Lactate also helps to actually DECREASE the acidity in your muscles during exercise – the exact opposite of what you usually hear!
Alrighty then – there you have it! Lactic acid isn’t evil.