Alrighty guys I know this is something everyone has been dying for me to write about. It’s finally happening. Time for me to finally burn this myth to the ground!!
In all seriousness, I have just heard a handful of people over the years say that they thought Lactic Acid was responsible for all kinds of bad things like DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), tightness, and muscle burning. The first thing I’ll say isn’t all that important but just a matter of terminology. People tend to use Lactate and Lactic Acid interchangeably. Your body produces Lactate. So there’s that.
If you read no further on this blog just read this: Lactate does not make your muscles burn, it doesn’t make you tight, it doesn’t make you cramp, and it doesn’t make your sore. Lactate is fuel.
You would think that by now, exercise scientists have figured out just about all there is to know about exercise and what happens to the body during it. But there is still not a consensus on what causes burning and soreness. Most experts believe the burning you feel during exercise is caused by an excessive buildup of Hydrogen Ions, which cause the environment to become more acidic. Since I was in college at least, DOMS was believed to be caused by excessive microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. But I recently read that it could also be caused by “mechanical hyperalgesia”. This means that the muscle fibers that send feedback to the brain about the tension that the muscle is under undergo a ton of pressure and then, as a result, become hyper-sensitive. That would help explain why we’re all a bunch of “sensitive Sams” (like how I used a name that could be a male or female??) when we’re sore.
Ok so if Lactate doesn’t cause any of that stuff what’s it for?
You can actually very easily measure Lactate and it does go up with increasing intensity in exercise. However, it is not the waste product that people have thought it was for nearly 100 years. When glucose goes through the process of being broken down for energy there’s a bunch of steps that it goes through. When I was in school it was taught that glucose could end up in one of two forms, pyruvate or lactate. Pyruvate was basically the result of lower intensity, lactate the result of higher intensity. So the harder you are pushing, the more lactate would accumulate. I can totally see how people thought it was a waste product. But actually lactate goes from this step on to vital organs to be used as fuel! Even crazier is that now it looks like people are discovering that pyruvate ends up turning into lactate eventually anyway. So all the glucose in your body might just end in lactate. Crazy.
If you really want to dive down the rabbit hole, check the StrongFit podcast episodes on Lactate where they discuss anxiety, depression, and a host of other things. One little tidbit I found really interesting is that people with high levels of anxiety have a naturally higher level of lactate in the blood. To me it just confirms that there is so much we don’t know. If anybody tries to sell you on their programs or products and their pitch involves boiling things in regards to the human body down to very simple solutions, ESPECIALLY when it comes to mental health, run the other way. You are operating the most advanced piece of machinery this planet has ever seen and solving these issues is very complicated.
Well there you go. Now anyone reading this will be able to go forth into the world and spread the word far and wide. Lactate does not cause soreness, burning, cramping, fatigue, muscle failure, or any of that stuff. The only thing it does is fuel your body to do awesome stuff. Like getting into the gym and kicking ass in some workouts this week! See you guys there!