What is lactic acid? | Live Science

what is lactic acid? If you’ve ever tried to sprint as fast as you could at the end of a run or do a set of heavy squats in the gym, you’ve probably experienced an uncomfortable burning sensation and overwhelming fatigue in your legs.

For many years, exercise scientists attributed this muscle burn to lactic acid, which was thought to be a byproduct of the metabolic reactions that take place in your muscles to generate the energy they need to power through your hard training.

but is lactic acid the culprit? To learn more about lactic acid and help separate the myths and misconceptions from the facts, we spoke with Bianca Grover (opens in a new tab), an exercise physiologist, medical exercise specialist, and personal trainer.

what is lactic acid?

Lactic acid is an organic acid produced by the body when glucose (sugar) is broken down to generate ATP (cellular energy) in the absence of oxygen.

When you exercise, your muscles need energy to work and allow you to move. To do this, your muscles produce cellular energy (adenosine triphosphate (ATP)) through different metabolic pathways.

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A metabolic pathway is basically a chain of chemical reactions. One of our most important metabolic pathways, known as glycolysis, breaks down glucose molecules (simple sugars from the foods we eat) into pyruvate. this chemical is then used as a source of energy for the body, but can only be harvested as a source of energy in the presence of oxygen.

When you exercise at a high intensity, and your body needs a lot of energy quickly, your fast-twitch muscle fibers will kick in and start producing energy anaerobically (without oxygen). the fibers will still rely on the glycolysis process to produce this energy, but since the pyruvate cannot be harvested for this purpose, it is converted to a waste product: lactic acid.

  • related: how to prepare for a workout
  • does lactic acid accumulate in the body?

    Although exercise physiologists used to believe that lactic acid could build up in the muscles and bloodstream during intense exercise, research in the journal Physiology (opens in a new tab) has shed light on the fact that lactic acid Lactic acid as a molecule cannot exist in its intact form in the body because the pH of human blood is too high. In other words, the pH of our blood is either too alkaline or not acidic enough to support the bond between the hydrogen ion and the lactate molecule.

    As a result, lactic acid in the body freely dissociates into the separate lactate molecule and lone hydrogen ions. therefore, lactic acid does not build up in the legs during intense exercise, and lactic acid is clearly not the cause of muscle burning or fatigue during intense exercise.

    Although blood lactate concentration increases during intense exercise, the lactic acid molecule itself dissociates and the lactate is recycled and used to create more ATP.

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    “Your body naturally metabolizes lactic acid, getting rid of it. Your liver can absorb some of the lactic acid molecules and convert them back to glucose for fuel,” says Grover. “This conversion also reduces the acidity in the blood, thereby eliminating some of the burning sensation. This is a natural process that occurs in the body. Things like stretching, rolling, or walking will have little to no impact.”

    The burning sensation you feel in your legs during intense training is probably not caused by lactic acid, but by tissue damage and inflammation.

    It’s also important to remember that lactate itself is not “bad.” in fact, research in bioscience horizons (opens in new tab) suggests that lactate is beneficial to the body during and after exercise in many ways. for example, lactate can be used directly by the brain and heart for energy or converted to glucose in the liver or kidneys, which can then be used by almost any cell in the body for energy.

    Are there other sources of lactic acid?

    Muscle cells are not the only sources of lactic acid. Red blood cells also produce lactic acid as they roam the body, according to the online text Anatomy and Physiology (opens in a new tab) published by Oregon State University. red blood cells do not have mitochondria, the part of the cell responsible for aerobic respiration, so they only respire anaerobically.

    Many species of bacteria also respire anaerobically and produce lactic acid as a waste product. in fact, these species constitute between 0.01 and 1.8% of the human intestine, according to a review published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology (opens in new tab). the more sugar these little guys eat, the more lactic acid they produce.

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    A little more insidious are the lactic acid bacteria that live in our mouths. Due to their acidifying effect on saliva, these bacteria are bad news for tooth enamel, according to a study published in Microbiology (opens in new tab).

    Finally, lactic acid is commonly found in fermented milk products, such as buttermilk, yogurt, and kefir. the bacteria in these foods use anaerobic respiration to break down lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid. however, that does not mean that lactic acid itself is a dairy product: it is 100% vegan. It gets its name from dairy simply because Carl Wilhelm, the first scientist to isolate lactic acid, did so from some spoiled milk, according to a study published in the American Journal of Physiology (opens in new tab).

    Is lactic acid responsible for muscle pain?

    glover says that lactic acid does not induce muscle pain. “The burning sensation is due to increased acidity in the blood due to the low amount of oxygen available,” he says, referring to hydrogen ions that dissociate from lactic acid molecules produced during anaerobic glycolysis. /p>

    Essentially, during intense exercise, muscles produce energy through a metabolic pathway that produces usable energy, lactate, and hydrogen ions.

    Lactate can be processed in the liver and used for energy in other parts of the body, while hydrogen ions are metabolic byproducts that lower the pH in muscles and blood, causing an acidic environment that produces a burning sensation and intense fatigue. in your muscles. pain after exercise is more likely due to tissue damage or inflammation.

    So, the next time you hear someone say their legs hurt from lactic acid, you might think, “it’s not lactic acid per se…”

    additional resources:

    • read about anaerobic respiration at khan academy.
    • Find out why you feel so sore after exercising.
    • learn more about acute lactic acidosis on medscape.
Content Creator Zaid Butt joined Silsala-e-Azeemia in 2004 as student of spirituality. Mr. Zahid Butt is an IT professional, his expertise include “Web/Graphic Designer, GUI, Visualizer and Web Developer” PH: +92-3217244554

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