Lactic Acid in Runners: Acidosis~ What It Is and How to Deal With It



Metadata; Lactic acid is a compound that the body produces during intense exercises because of low oxygen levels. It causes heavy breathing, burning sensation and muscle ache.

What Is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is a type of compound that is released when glucose has been broken down and eventually oxidized. More lactic acid is produced during extreme exercises since this is the time that the levels of oxygen are perceived to be very low and muscles need oxygen to function properly. When it is at its active state, the lactic acid produced can create a burning sensation, muscle ache, heavy breathing, nausea, and stomach pain. The rapid breathing happens because the body will be trying to pay the ‘oxygen debt’ that has been created by intense physical exercise. It is, however, a myth that ongoing soreness that may be experienced after an intense exercise is as a result of the creation of lactic acid.

The soreness comes following the tearing of tiny muscles and inflammations. The LT pace, commonly known as the Lactate threshold is manageable. However, the process is not so easy and can cause your body to release more lactate. Whenever you begin to train at the Lactate threshold pace, your body will then condition itself to be able to move the lactate in areas it is needed, effectively.  This process is crucial and will significantly improve your performances starting from small races and go all the way to the marathon.


Runners running- their bodies are producing lactic acid

Understanding Lactic Acid

It is imperative for every athlete to learn all the dangers that the buildup of lactic acid may cause. But when you mount evidence on the different systems of energy in the body, you will probably get a different story.  An athlete will only be able to develop advanced strategies for training and good running performance if they only understand the relationship that exists between three main factors here.  The three factors that a runner should understand better are the following:

Without getting to understand the difference between these three factors, it will be hard to have good performances.  Lactic acid under the normal circumstances can be described as a fuel. However, two issues seem to be unresolved here; whether the body produces this compound to burn as a fuel or a situation where a body uses a dangerous byproduct in the most efficient manner.

But one thing that has been known by scientists and runners for a long time is that this compound is just one among the several sources of fuel, and that proves that it is not as bad as others may think, and does not cause fatigue in any way.  To start things off, the soreness that runners experience after having had prolonged and intense training exercises is not in any way caused by lactic acid.  After anaerobic exercise, lactic acid exits the muscles within a period that does not exceed sixty minutes.

Having mentioned that, it is also important to point out that the soreness of the muscle often reaches its climax 72 hours after a race has been completed. The pain experienced by runners after a packed up exercise is caused by muscle micro tears and the inflammation of tissues that comes later on after the activity.  To be so sure, during 18 to 22 marathon miles, marathoners may experience shutting down of the contraction of the muscles. What might follow next is an intense soreness and cramping. This particular case can be associated with lactic acid to certain extents.

To get a good understanding of a nuanced and new view of this compound, it would be very important first to review the two major systems of energy that are utilized by the body during racing, especially long distance races. These systems are anaerobic and aerobic.




Anaerobic Energy System

Adenosine Triphosphate, commonly abbreviated as ATP is a very high-energy molecule and also the primary source of energy that is used for the contraction of the muscle.  Whenever we exercise in an anaerobic manner, the Adenosine triphosphate is derived from the oxygen that we intake for breathing. Two other compounds will be required here to help in converting this oxygen into energy; the glycogen present in the liver and the muscles and glucose in the blood.

When there is no oxygen, the adenosine triphosphate will be obtained from the glycogen and glucose breakdown though through a different metabolic procedure. The body will then depend on the system of anaerobic energy especially if the quantity of adenosine triphosphate that is required cannot be gotten from the normal intake of oxygen and conversion to energy. When this happens, the byproduct known as lactic acid is then created.

In simple words, anaerobic exercise is the type of exercise whereby the body is not getting enough oxygen because you are exercising at a high speed which will result in your heart beating faster and the amount of oxygen that you inhale will also reduce. Subsequently, lactic acid will be released at a faster rate.

Aerobic Energy System

In this particular system, oxygen will be greatly needed to help in the chemical conversion of glycogen and glucose into a fuel that can be used. In other words, aerobic or “oxygen” is the opposite of anaerobic and it means that a person is receiving adequate oxygen to maintain their exercise or running. These runs include  a morning jog or a long slow run that you might take within the week. In understanding this, it is also very important to debunk all myths that might surround this issue. One of these myths is that the muscle glycogen depletion causes a direct build-up of lactic acid and creating the cramping and fatigue always experienced. This is a total misconception.

A runner may still be able to run without getting fatigued even after the body has utilized all of the available glycogen. In the final phase of endurance events like a marathon, the body will mainly rely on the burning of fat. After about sixty minutes of active running, the ratio of energy obtained from carbohydrates and fat burning will be one to three.

The aerobic system of energy is very efficient compared to the anaerobic system of energy. In the absence of oxygen, the body will need a striking eighteen times the quantity of glucose to be able to obtain the same amount of adenosine triphosphate as it can with an aerobic system. In the aerobic system, fatty acid contributes a huge portion of energy compared to other compounds. The anaerobic system on the other hand only targets the glucose.

Young lady running in the desert at sunset

The onset of the fatigue or wall as it is commonly known is not in any way caused by the triggering of the metabolism of fatty acid. What causes this effect is when a runner exercises above the anaerobic threshold they can handle.  It is possible to continue producing ATP even after running out of glycogen. It is not using all the muscle glycogen that may cause fatigue. Running below your anaerobic thresholds will have no effect, but running above your anaerobic threshold will make lactate to build up.  The cramping of muscles that has been associated with build up of lactate is due to the overexcitement of muscles receptors that are undergoing a serious fatigue. This mainly occurs in athletes who do not train properly. It is not insufficient oxygen alone that can cause this. Lack of sufficient oxygen would only push one to use the anaerobic system of energy, nothing more. The result of your training will depend on how your body will be able to handle this encounter.

If your cellular “cell factories” known as mitochondria are willing to process the lactic acid efficiently, then you will not hit the Wall. Instead, you will get an extra source of energy in lactic acid.  The body has a way of splitting lactates into hydrogen ion and lactic acid. The hydrogen ions have a tendency of interfering with signals of electric from nerves and muscles, bringing in impaired contractions and pain. Through proper training, you will be able to gain some knowledge on how to effectively process the lactic acid.

Running Coaches, through trial and error, confirm that athletic performances greatly improved when runners opted to work on running longer distances for longer periods. This is a strategy that can increase the muscle mitochondria’s mass, at certain times by as much as double. This would, in turn, allow runners to use up more lactic acid and giving the muscles an opportunity to perform for longer periods of time.

The great news for runners, especially the long distance ones is that prolonged sub-maximal and high-intensity training can adapt you to remove substantial quantities of lactic acid using two main systems; the mitochondrial and cardiovascular.

Should You Get Rid Of Lactic Acid?

The answer to this question is no. Let us get down and see why you shouldn’t get rid of the lactic acid in your body. Have you ever participated in a workout or race, felt unyielding and moved faster than you have ever thought you can, and what comes to your mind is how awesome it will be when you eventually go past the finish line? This is a common experience with athletes.  But within few minutes in this process, your body begins to shut down all over sudden.

You become fatigued or hit the wall, to a point where you find it very hard even to move your legs. As you continue with the race, it dawns on you that the fastest run you earlier had is gone and you end up completing the race feeling so confused and deflated.

Most runners will blame this on the lactic acid build up. Lactic acid, as had been mentioned earlier has been blamed for soreness, fatigue, overtraining and many other problems that athletes undergo. But the phenomenon of the accumulation of lactate during an active exercise has been greatly misunderstood. The question is: Is this compound atrocious for runners and does it deserve to be gotten rid of it?

Is The Acid Buildup Dangerous For Athletes?

The coming together of lactic acid and lactate (which is the negatively charged ionic form of it) with fatigue during any extreme workout or running, has a long story.  But this is what is important; muscles will lose power during the process of an intense and prolonged effort.  Through mental effort and great concentration, the growing fatigue that athletes experience while exercising can be resisted for a shorter period. But at the end, nobody will fail to succumb to fatigue.

Where Did The Misconception Originate? 

Now that it is already understood that lactic acid is not actually bad as it might have been portrayed, it would be very important to see why people came to believe this lie.  The genesis of muscular fatigue was studied by the old-time physiologists using electric impulses that were sent to muscles from a group of dissected frogs. Yes, frogs. When they were finally analyzed, they reveal a very high concentration of acid ions and lactate. It is at this point that the physiologists concluded that the reason why muscular fatigue was experienced during intense exercises was as a result of the accumulation of lactic acid.

This was one of the theories that stayed unchallenged for the better part of the twentieth century.  But later, a new study showing that the energy supply systems of a body relied on very strong biochemical accounting would emerge. It is very clear that the body, in the first place, does not associate with the production of lactic acid, but just lactate, which are ions that have been negatively charged.

What Does Lactate Really Do To The Body Of A Runner? 

Runners are very familiar with a particular statement explaining the energy pathways. It states that sugar is turned into fuel in a process called aerobic respiration. Oxygen is used here, and so the process does not produce any dangerous byproducts. It is also clear that anaerobic respiration can convert sugar to energy in the presence of oxygen. The only issue here is that the results of this process are waste products – acid and lactate.

While the anaerobic respiration operates all the time, converting sugar into pyruvate, aerobic process eats up the hydrogen ions and leads to the buildup of acid in the runner’s muscle.  The lactate belongs to another generation, which by default is a side reaction. Whenever too much acid and pyruvate begin to accumulate, hydrogen ion and pyruvate molecule is used by the body to create lactate. This is another great way in which the body minimizes the acid’s buildup.  The lactate can also be burned in different parts of the body to produce more energy after having been shuttled from the muscles.

Ways Of Preventing Lactate From Slowing You Down 

All the mechanisms that your body has for purposes of managing the level of acid produced during an intense activity are very limited.  You can also effectively increase how far you will be able to run by just upgrading your aerobic fitness. This will greatly affect how fast and how far you will be able to run.  Lactate plays several roles in the life cycle of an athlete. It causes fatigue, which strangely enough is instrumental in making you understand the areas of intense workout or areas where your lactate threshold cannot go beyond.

The workouts are not running for a long distance for the sake of just running, but they also play a role in your body.  These workouts train your body to be in a position of producing, processing and also burning the lactate at a rate that is considerably higher than before.  This will positively influence your stamina particularly over medium and short duration races like 5000 or 10000 meters.  And again, there is a form of inescapable fatigue that is caused by an overload of an acid. In shorter races, there is absolutely no getting around it.

The best thing you can do is to run hard interval races and workouts. Through this, you will be able perfect your capability to buffer the acid released when you are participating in a fast race. It is also important to remember that all people are limited to the presence of acidity in their blood and muscles. There is nothing like lactic acid production that exists in any form of an exercise.   When you are exercising, your body will definitely produce acid. Another compound that is produced during an exercise is the lactate. But it should be understood that the main culprit of fatigue is acid and not lactate.


Ways Of Pushing Past Your Limits Of Lactic Acid 

Athletes have feared lactic acid for no apparent reasons. It is just viewed as some substance that will make one very tired especially during a race and sore afterward. But this is very far from the actual truth.  Lactic acid should not be blamed for any soreness that a runner might experience after a race since most of it is fast removed upon completion of an exercise.

But as mentioned earlier, lactic acid is not useless either. This compound carries a very crucial source of fuel for high-intensity racing. Runners should undergo proper training so that they can be able to delay lactic acid’s onset, and eventually upgrade the capacity of the body to use this acid as a fuel. The amount of lactic acid produced will depend on the intensity of the exercise; you will have more of it when the exercise is of high intensity and vice versa. It appears that most activities of lactic acid happen in the blood. It is here where this acid breaks into hydrogen ions and lactate. The mitochondria then process the lactate and convert it into a useful fuel. The mitochondria are the energy processing factories that are present in the body of a human being. From there you will notice that it is hydrogen ions that are responsible for most problems that runners undergo.

When hydrogen ions gather together, the muscles then find it so hard to be able to contract. That exactly is what is responsible for the strenuous feeling when you are running and even leads to an individual burning sensation that you would experience after a serious workout.  But the good news is you can actually teach your body to be able to buffer hydrogen ions. This will enable to run very fast and for a longer time, and also delay the duration it takes for that particular burning to occur.

It is simple; just run beyond the intensity at which this compound starts to gather in your blood, commonly referred to as the lactate threshold. This does not only enable you to run at a faster speed, but it also teaches your body on how to utilize lactic acid as a source of fuel.  Runners who can be able to work out at 115 to 145 percent of the lactate threshold within three days in one week for five weeks will possibly improve their buffer abilities of hydrogen ions by over 25%. But runners who work at intensities that are lower, almost ninety-five percent of buffer capacity of lactate threshold will just remain the same.

Running beyond the threshold of your lactic acid will teach your body how to effectively process the lactic acid and convert it into a usable fuel within the shortest time possible. It will again improve your ability to buffer the hydrogen ions effectively. These two are very important processes as they will assist you to run longer and faster.

How To Get Rid Of Extreme Lactic Acid In Legs 

Apart from being present in differences food substances, lactic acid is also produced in the body of a human being. There are various reasons backed up by medical facts explaining why lactic acid exists within your muscles in excessive amounts. However, vigorous exercise has been identified as the most common cause. Too much lactic acid results in discomfort that is felt in the legs.

Despite the fact that the discomfort may be temporary, it can still affect the physical performance of a runner. It is therefore very important to find ways of getting rid of the extreme lactic acid in that area.

Why Does It Happen?  

The reason why your body regularly produces this substance in smaller quantities is to be able to help with different biological processes. However, there are instances where the acid is created at a faster rate making it very hard for your body to eliminate it. This condition is referred to as Lactic Acidosis.  It is a common experience that runners encounter when exercising. It mostly happens when the intensity of your exercise is so high to a point where there is no readily available fuel for the muscles.

The buildup of lactic acid happens as an end product of the consumption of glucose as the next alternative source of fuel for your body. This occurs whenever your body cannot afford sufficient oxygen to be used by the muscles as fuel. It is the buildup of the acid that leads to a feeling of discomfort, majorly felt as a burning sensation in the areas of the muscles.  Here are some of the means you can employ to remove the extra acid in the area of your legs.

The Natural Way Of Elimination

Your body will start to remove the lactic acid naturally immediately you stop exercising entirely or reduce the intensity of your activities. This will happen since the need for glucose to be used as an alternative source of fuel shall have gone down. As a result, the acid byproduct will begin to scatter.  As you continue reducing the pace of your exercises, you will also feel relieved from the discomfort of the muscle that is always connected to acidosis.

Due to the fact that this method of acid elimination will take place through natural means, there would be no any other steps that are again required to get rid of the compound. The removal of lactic acid through this natural process takes an average time of one hour.

Prevention Through Exercise & Workout


Remain Hydrated Always

  • It is important to note that lactic acid is water soluble, and so you will rarely feel a burn during a workout when you are more hydrated.
  • While you are working out, try and drink many fluids. You will be dehydrated by the time you feel thirsty.
  • Before you work out, drink between 236 to 473 milliliters (8-16 oz.) of water, then for every twenty minutes that you workout; drink about 236 (8 oz.) of water.

Practice Deep Breathing

  • The genesis of the burning sensation felt in the muscle in times of an extreme activity is always twofold: it is as a result of the lactic acid buildup, but also the insufficient supply of oxygen.
  • Examining your breathing while exercising can ameliorate this.
  • It is only through this that you will be able to take oxygen to the muscle and prevent the creation of lactic acid.

Have Frequent Workouts 

When you are physically fit, your body will need less glucose to burn for the production and therefore preventing the buildup of lactic acid. You should ensure you have a workout plan and add repetitions and minutes gradually to your routine.



Be Careful While Lifting Weight 

  • Weightlifting can, in a way, promote the build up of lactic acid since it needs more energy than we can give.
  • To keep levels of lactic acid that are healthy in your body, it is important to increase the repetitions and the weight in a gradual manner.


Stretch After Every Workout 

  • Lactic acid takes about thirty minutes to an hour to be able to disperse after a workout session. And so, it will be very important to stretch to release the lactic acid and relieve yourself from muscle cramps or burning sensations.
  • Use your fingertip to massage the affected area and just stretch in a light way.
  • Stretching will also help in getting rid of any micro-trauma that may cause soreness after a workout.

Lead an active life 

  • Resting after a workout is very important, but you should ensure that you stay active.
  • For muscles to remain healthy, they do need not only water and oxygen, but also activity.

Remember lactic acid in small quantities is not dangerous to your health, and in fact, they may be of some benefits.

You Can Reduce Lactic Acid Through Diet 

You can also prevent the excess lactic acid, and by far its dangerous effects, by leading a healthy life through diet.  Here are some of the things you can do to have a healthy diet.

Increase the intake of magnesium to your body  Magnesium is a mineral that is responsible for the production of energy in the body. The healthy levels of magnesium will assist in delivering energy to your muscles when you are participating in an intense workout.  You can find this precious mineral in food sources like spinach, kidney beans, lima beans, swiss chard, nigari tofu among others.

Foods rich in fatty acid are good  Foods rich in fatty acids include milk, margarine, eggs and yogurt. These food sources will assist the body to break down glucose in a biological process that is very important for the production of energy.  This action will assist in lowering your body’s desire for lactic acid, particularly during an intense workout.  They can also be used to decrease the chances of inflammation, and as a result, limits the soreness of the muscle within the shortest time possible.

Consume foods that are rich in vitamin B  This vitamin is responsible for the transportation of glucose in the entire body. Consumption of foods rich in vitamin B such as spinach, red meat, fish, liver and eggs will assist in providing the muscles with fuel and therefore lowering the need for this acid in the body.

Other Techniques Athletes Can Try 

  • Besides the fact that the removal of lactic acid happens naturally, sometimes runners go an extra mile to look for additional means of getting rid of this compound.
  • Some of the techniques that have been proved to be common for this process are the messages and hot baths.
  • These two methods are relaxing but have been reported to be ineffective for getting the acid out of the legs. Therefore, athletes are advised not to focus much on them.

The accumulation of lactic acid is not entirely preventable as you continue to meet and even go past different fitness thresholds. However, as you progressively and gradually grow to become physically fit, your body will also grow to become more effective in utilizing oxygen, which is its primary source of fuel.  Through this, the extreme buildup of lactic acid in your legs will greatly decrease.

To Summarize…

  • Lactate pooling or lactic acid does not cause any effect in the body especially the delayed muscle soreness.
  • Muscular fatigue is believed to come as a result of a process called acidosis.
  • Training can accelerate the clearance of lactate and lower the accumulation of lactate at any particular workload. This then causes accumulation of lactate when you are not working out hard.
  • It is clear that lactic acid should not be definitively described as the enemy of the athlete. Several aspects of the production of lactic acid are very important to the general performance of an athlete.

You should see a doctor or a certified physician when you feel any of the symptoms mentioned earlier in this article.  Remember this condition can get severe if it is not addressed at the appropriate time.

To prepare this article, here is a list of the sources of references that were used.


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