In the battle to fight off fatigue and prevent muscle soreness, there is a lot that we know can help you push harder during your workouts.
Caffeine at lower amounts (about 100 mg) can help dull the mental perception of fatigue. Creatine can help supply more ATP, your body's main energy source. And, beta-alanine might help buffer out the toxins that cause your muscles to fatigue.
Then you have lactic acid. Whether you're a runner, athlete, or lifter, the build-up of lactic acid is seen as the point where you need to wave the white flag on your workout.
But, what if lactic acid wasn't as bad as you thought, and there were ways to prevent you from hitting your wall?
What is Latic Acid?
Warning: Science is coming.
Usually, our bodies produce most of our energy using oxygen. But, when we perform strenuous exercise, such as lifting heavy weights or sprinting, we breathe faster and require energy to be produced faster. When that happens, we generate energy in a different way.
When the body has enough oxygen, glucose is metabolized into pyruvate, a substance which is then broken down into energy. But, when oxygen is lacking, pyruvate is temporarily converted into lactate, allowing the energy generation to continue. This type of energy can be produced in an interval from one to three minutes.
Lactate then builds up in the muscles. What happens from there has been the cause of much debate and confusion.
For a long time, lactate accumulation was thought to be a major cause of muscle fatigue. However, this study points out that lactic acid can have a protective effect on the muscles. It definitely suggests that the old belief that lactate is detrimental to muscles and exercise was wrong and incomplete.
In fact, it seems more likely that soreness is caused by inflammation and micro-tears in the muscles.
What Causes Lactic Acid To Build Up?
As mentioned, lactic acid builds up as the body goes into the process of anaerobic energy production. The lactate threshold (LT) is defined as a point during the exercise when lactate levels spike up. That means that your body is producing lactic acid faster than it can eliminate it.
This happens as the oxygen uptake lowers, usually during intense exercise. The athlete’s ability to perform at a high level depends on their ability to maintain high oxygen uptake even during rigorous exercise.
When you hit the lactate threshold, you usually need to take a break and rest. This is why many athletes consider it paramount to increase their LT, thus increasing their ability to stave off exhaustion in high-intensity endurance sports.
How To Prevent Lactic Acid Build Up
The lactate threshold is usually measured in a lab environment, but you can do an estimate at home. When you perform an endurance activity such as running on a treadmill or cycling for half an hour, try to stay at your peak performance.
During the last 20 minutes, monitor your heart rate. Your average heart rate over that time will usually correspond to your LT. However, if you’re not a high performing athlete who’s in top shape, don’t try this at home.
To increase your lactate threshold, you need to train just at the brink or slightly above it.
Interval training has been shown to increase the lactate threshold. Come up with a good interval training plan and try to increase your performance peak each time. High-intensity interval training could up your LT pretty fast, but it could also increase muscle damage.
On the other hand, steady-state cardio training might take longer, but it could be a safer way to increase both your anaerobic and LT thresholds. Cardio exercise increases lung capacity, and it could postpone the moment lactic build-up starts.
It really depends on your goals and current shape and training plan. If you want to increase your LT, it’s also a good idea to consult a professional trainer, and if you’re super serious about it, get your LT lab-measures so you know exactly where you stand.
Whichever training option you choose, make sure you start slow and gradually increase the difficulty. Lactic threshold increases with consistent and gradual high-intensity performance. Overstraining your muscles could be counterproductive, leading to an increased lactic acid build-up.
Regardless of your training plan, make sure to have rest days in between. As we mentioned, LT occurs when lactic acid accumulates in excess, so you need to leave your body some time to break it down and eliminate it.
Of course, proper hydration pre, during, and post-training is an absolute must.
Choose hydration drinks that nourish the muscles, such as the ones that contain all the electrolytes you need, especially during the workout. A balanced diet and carefully planned pre-workout meals will also help your body use energy more efficiently.
Because lactic acid builds up when oxygen goes down, it’s a good idea to start doing breathing exercises. They can help you increase your lung capacity and become more aware of your breathing so that you can take deeper breaths even during high-intensity exercise.
How To Reduce Lactic Acid After Workouts
After a session of high-intensity exercise, the best thing you can do is let your body do its job. Once the stress on the muscles stops, your body will naturally get rid of the lactic acid. Cool down, rest, drink a lot of water, and help your body do what it does best.
Light stretching before a workout will help your muscles prepare for the exercise, especially if you do dynamic stretching which targets the muscles that will be used.
Similarly, post-workout stretching will help your muscles relax. Foam rolling is another useful method to combat muscle soreness, regardless of its cause. Light massage can help alleviate the pain that comes from micro-tears.
Make sure to replenish your body post-workout and eat a balanced meal of carbs and protein.