21 Feb 2020

What is Lactic Acid?

Fitness and workout advice

We all know the feeling: the deep burn in our muscles when we’re in the middle of a set of heavy weight reps, hiking up a steep incline, swimming or running a long distance, or basically doing any physical activity that requires a significant amount of energy. 

We’re often told “feeling the burn” is a key factor in a good workout, but few of us actually know what lactic acid is, what it does, and whether it is good for muscle growth.

Here we’ll explore these questions plus determine how lactic acid training can augment your exercise routine and help you build muscle.

So, What is Lactic Acid?

lactic acid

Lactate is a chemical byproduct of anaerobic energy production – called glycolysis – in the body, which most commonly occurs when it’s being overexerted with strenuous exercise. When good old-fashioned aerobic energy generation (i.e. breathing faster) just won’t cut it, the body turns to this anaerobic pathway for fuel, and while breaking down glucose for energy, lactate can accumulate in our muscles to extremely high levels.

These elevated lactate levels increase muscle cell acidity, causing what we know as lactic acid – the substance behind that fiery burn we feel during an intense workout or exertion. 

Now you Know What Causes Lactic Acid, but Exactly What Does Lactic Acid do to Your Muscles?

lactic acid

Contrary to popular belief, the lactic acid “burn” isn’t the cause of the muscle tenderness that often lingers after a heavy workout – that is simply a swollen, overworked muscle in the throes of an inflammatory-repair response. The presence of lactic acid in muscles and that famous accompanying burn serves merely as a cue for the body to slow down and allow for recovery.

So if it’s Actually an Indication of and Remedy for an Overworked Body, How is Lactic Acid Good for Muscle Growth?

The answer is that as well as being part of a magical anaerobic fuel-production process, the presence of lactic acid also increases the amount of human growth hormone and testosterone in the body.

How, you ask?

When a person is pushed to their ‘lactic threshold’ – the maximum exercise intensity they can maintain without fatiguing – lactic acid accumulates at a faster rate than the body can process and remove it. This build-up triggers the release of testosterone and human growth hormone, which each have a pretty handy trick of their own: the testosterone burns up fat cells for fuel and the growth hormone begins to build lean muscle in their place.

So Does Lactic Acid Training Work?

lactic acid

Lactic acid training is a super-intense exercise method predominantly used by elite athletes involving consistently and deliberately pushing the body to its lactic threshold through heavy interval training with little rest in between sets.

Hard? Yes. Painful? Sure. But the payoff is often remarkable.

By persistently striving for that overproduction of lactate, the athlete is guaranteed the accompanying fat burn and muscle growth that goes hand in hand with it.

Regularly reaching the lactic threshold through lactic acid exercise also boosts your ability to tolerate intense, prolonged exertion, making it a hugely beneficial training technique for endurance athletes as well as those looking to build muscle.

So while work, burn, fail, repeat might seem like a recipe for muscle injury, this specialised lactic acid training may indeed be the fastest route to problem fat loss and building lean muscle in record time. Speak with your personal trainer and/or doctor before starting a lactic acid training routine to make sure it’s suitable for you.

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