If you spend much time reading or learning about how your body responds to exercise, you’ve probably heard about lactic acid. Lactic acid is produced when your body’s need for energy surpasses its ability to deliver oxygen to your muscles. It has also led to a number of claims, misconceptions, and myths among athletes, fitness professionals, and the general public.
Three of the most common claims pertaining to lactic acid are:
- Lactic acid is a primary cause of fatigue during exercise.
- Lactic acid is the cause of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which occurs 12-72 hours following exercise.
- Lactic acid is a waste product of metabolism that impairs athletic performance if allowed to accumulate within the muscle cell.
These misconceptions may lead people to believe things about their athletic performance that are not true. Here is the truth behind these three lactic acid claims.
Debunking Claims About Lactic Acid
The first claim on our list is that lactic acid is a primary cause of fatigue during exercise. This statement is false. Lactic acid does indeed accumulate during intense exercise and can impede muscle contractions. However, it normally resolves itself within 30-60 of exercise cessation.
The second claim is that lactic acid is the cause of muscle soreness (or DOMS) following exercise. This claim is also false. Recent research shows that the soreness we experience 1-2 days after a hard workout has nothing to do with lactic acid. Instead, it appears to be caused by microtrauma within muscle fibers.
Our final claim is that lactic acid is a waste product that impairs athletic performance. This claim is (you guessed it) false. As we mentioned above, lactic acid might impede muscle contraction. However, it actually serves as a viable energy reserve for both our aerobic and anaerobic pathways. In essence, this means your body actually uses it during exercise that either utilizes oxygen (aerobic) or no oxygen (anaerobic). Because it is used by the body during exercise, it is not a waste product.
Your Next Steps
So how can we apply this knowledge of lactic acid to make our workouts more effective? First, it is important to incorporate a good recovery routine after exercise. Recovery also plays a role during exercise itself. Taking a rest period between sets can ensure you do a little more without sacrificing your form.
Are you feeling sore after your workouts? There’s no need to simply live with DOMS. Get out your foam roller to help soothe that soreness away.
We hope you’re thinking about lactic acid in a slightly different way! Now that you know a little more about it, we want to encourage you to approach your workouts a little differently. Take the time to take care of your body as you exercise. Incorporate periods of rest into your strength routines if you haven’t already. Explore new ways to deal with muscle soreness after exercise (your coach is a great resource for ideas). Keep exploring how your body reacts to exercise and you’ll get more and more out of each workout!