Lactate –or lactic acid– has become a trigger word in the exercise community for years now. It seems like everyone has an opinion and many people claim to be experts. Lactic acid has had a confusing reputation and rightfully so. Just like anything in science, it’s important to look at the full picture.
I first became introduced to lactic acid in 8th grade when we were asked to conduct an experiment or research project for the science fair. As a young athlete (runner at the time) the first thing that came to mind for me was this mysterious ‘lactic acid’ that everyone talked about. I wanted to know more.
As an 8th grader, I ordered a lactic acid monitor, learned how to prick my finger to test the blood, and conducted my experiment. For 50 workouts I tested my blood lactate before and after the workout alongside another runner who was older and faster than me. We did the same workouts and ran at the same pace. We categorized each workout and what I found was that the easier workouts produced less lactate (often times resulting in less at the finish of the workout than at the start) and the harder, more high-intensity workouts created more lactate. In the higher intensity workouts, the older and faster runner always had less lactate build-up than me, which makes sense because he wasn’t working as hard.
It’s not a perfect experiment by any stretch of the imagination, but I was in 8th grade. Give me a break. It did, however, give me the information I needed to spark a desire to dig deeper when I got older and went to college to earn my Exercise Science degree.
In my experience, when trying to learn about Lactic Acid sources try to make it either way too complex or dumb it down so far that you miss the whole premise. Here’s my best try at finding a happy medium:
Lactic acid is constantly being both produced and removed within the cells of our body. Lactate is produced by glycolysis which we know is the breakdown of glucose and generates ATP (energy).
When lactate is produced it can be taken up by mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) and then is oxidized (used). This is a way that lactate can actually be used as a source of fuel during exercise. Due to their highly oxidative nature (meaning using oxygen) this often occurs in Type 1 or slow-twitch muscle fibers. If you think about what this means on a basic level, it means that when working with Type 1 types in an aerobic state of exercise the body is able to efficiently create and use lactate as fuel.
On the other hand, lactate is produced mostly by Type 2 muscle fibers (fast-twitch muscle fibers). In this case, the lactate is usually shuttled somewhere else to be oxidized since oxygen is needed in order to use that lactate efficiently. This means that when you exercise at higher intensities your fast-twitch muscles may produce more lactate, but you must continue to use oxygen in order to use that lactate effectively. Our bodies work hard to do that for us, and when we no longer have enough oxygen to do that (because we are breathing too hard) we cross over the “lactate threshold.”
Let’s keep this very simple. The lactate threshold is the time in which the amount of lactate being produced exceeds the rate in which the lactate can be used. When we are no longer getting enough oxygen in the system to oxidize the lactate to be used in the body, too much lactate accumulates. This can then set off a chain of events in the body which ultimately can lead to difficulty with muscle contraction capacity. That is not beneficial to performance. So you see, lactate is a good thing when it can be used appropriately, but when it cannot, it can be the starting point at which your system starts to break down.
In college students in the Exercise Science department were constantly doing experiments with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). It’s been proven that in very high-intensity exercise bicarbonate can help to buffer the large amounts of lactic acid that the body may not normally be able to handle. With the use of bicarbonate, the body can produce higher amounts of lactic acid associated with anaerobic exercise without it causing the system break down. It can do this by assisting with the transport of lactate from the muscle fiber.
This sounds like a dream solution, but the problem is that sodium bicarbonate is extremely hard to digest. It can cause diarrhea, cramps and bloating which pretty much hinders any potential advantages it gave you to start with. Enter PR Lotion.
PR Lotion delivers sodium bicarbonate directly to the body through topical application meaning that you get the benefit of the bicarbonate without the GI distress that comes with digesting baking soda. For me, this has been a game changer. I use PR Lotion every time I do a workout because I believe that if I can dig deeper then I will get more training benefits. You can order some PR Lotion to try for yourself at The Feed website. You can use this link for a $15 credit.