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Lactic acid metabolism

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A man running, thus building up lactic acid in his muscles

When a person has an intense and vigorous workout, fatigue and muscle pain will occur. This pain is from a buildup of lactic acid within the muscles due to a lack of oxygen. A lack of oxygen within the muscles is called anaerobic metabolism. This process can be referred to as lactic acid metabolism. The process of the body reacting to the lack of oxygen in the muscles is due to intense exercise. Although there are ways to reduce the effects of lactic acid in the muscles, there is no way to completely avoid it. Recent research has revealed that lactic acid build up in muscles can have beneficial factors, but only when applied correctly. Lactic acid is involved in biochemical processes due to its metabolic nature. It is also known as lactate. Lactic acid is an organic compound with a chemical formula of CH3CH(OH)CO2H. [1] It forms when glucose is broken down, that's why an athlete experiences burning sensations within their muscles during intense exercise.[2]

Lactic acid: Good or Bad?

A space filled lactic acid molecule.

Lactic acid build up within the muscles is known only to create pain and cause muscle fatigue. Even though this build up ofwaste prevents complete performance in athletes, researchers have discovered another take on it. After over 30 years of research, The University of California insists that lactic acid can be beneficial, if applied correctly. Although many people do not realize this fact, including some coaches and athletes, efficient use of lactic acid can prevent more build up and create energy. This occurs when athletes are taught to use their source of lactic acid as fuel with the carbohydrates within the muscle tissue and sugar contained in the blood. To use your lactic acid efficiently, training is required. This training grows the mitochondria, or the powerhouse of the cell, within the cells. The mitochondria is where the lactic acid is burned for energy. According to the researchers, short burst of energy generates more lactic acid, which forces the body to build up its mitochondria within the cells. This clears the lactic acid quickly and prevents more from accumulating. This discovery helps to prevent athletes from over training. Over training can destroy muscle cells. [3]

So, is lactic acid good or bad? There is no doubt that lactic acid causes discomfort during an intense workout, but over time the body will adjust to the strain and reduce pain. There is no way to completely avoid lactic acid, but researchers are continuing to find ways to use the bodies function to a person’s advantage. Lactic acid can be good and bad. It is unfortunate that it prevents athletes from competing at their full potential, but the way that the body changes from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism is truly amazing. Without the body knowing how to function without oxygen, athletes would never be able to push their bodies. Lactic acids is simply the result of the body saving itself. So, lactic acid is the bad result of the body creating a good and beneficial reaction.

Anaerobic metabolism vs. Aerobic metabolism

Anaerobic and aerobic metabolism are curial functions within the human body. Both functions are what fuel the muscles within the body. In short, anaerobic functions without the presence of oxygen and aerobic functions with it. The metabolism part of these functions has to do with using the energy that the body produces and using that energy when we exert our bodies. A glucose molecule can only produce three ATP under anaerobic metabolism, while aerobic metabolism can produce thirty-nine ATP molecules.[4] When aerobic metabolism is used during light exercise, there is a good amount of oxygen and energy, resulting in the muscles contracting without fatigue. Aerobic metabolism is used daily and oxygen is constantly being transported to the muscles as the body moves throughout the day. There is no need for the body to produce more oxygen. Aerobic is applied to rest, while anaerobic is quite the opposite. Anaerobic metabolism results from the body using respiration without oxygen. Anaerobic metabolism fuels the muscles using lactic acid. It is usually used during short bursts of energy and intense exercise. The body must rely on other methods that do not require oxygen. Anaerobic metabolism produces waste which is also known as fatigue.[5]

Aerobic and anaerobic metabolism never completely switch from one to the other. The metabolisms gain one or the other due to the body’s need after exerting high levels of energy. It remains more of a transition than a complete change. The transition occurs when the aerobic metabolism increases and surpasses the metabolic threshold. The metabolic threshold refers to the change in the metabolism, transitioning from aerobic to anaerobic. As a person increases in their competitive and athletic training, tolerance for lactic acid build up will be produced. This tolerance means that their metabolic threshold will occur at higher intensity levels than someone who just begins their training or starts to consistently exercise for the first time. Both aerobic and anaerobic metabolisms are very important and significant to the body and athletes. God’s design remains flawless and perfect in his sight, especially if we take care and nourish our bodies. [5]

Formation of lactic acid in the muscles

The process of lactic acid and glucose being transported from the muscles to the liver through the blood stream.

When the human body over exerts itself, and performs exhausting exercises, the lungs require more oxygen. As a human begins to breathe faster, the body desires to send more and more oxygen to sustain the hard-working muscles. The muscles on a regular basis use aerobic respiration or metabolism to transport oxygen, but after much work and exertion, the amount of oxygen production lessens. Thanks to God’s amazing and perfect design, the body begins to acquire oxygen through anaerobic processes. This process negates the use of oxygen transportation to the muscles, allowing the strenuous exercise to continue. After working the muscles for a period, the muscles form lactic acid build up. Lactic acid is the ideal energy form during exercise, because it can be quickly absorbed and used instantly by the body in times where oxygen levels are low. Although lactic acid builds up in the body, insulin levels do not increase.[6]

Lactic acid can also be described or referred to as “oxygen debt”.[7] The energy that forms during the state of anaerobic metabolism comes from a sugar named glucose. Although the formation of lactic acid is the result of providing and saving itself, too much lactic acid can cause the muscles to stop working. Glucose is metabolized through a process known as glycolysis wherein it is broken down into two molecules of pyruvate. When the body has enough oxygen transported to the muscles, pyruvate is used in aerobic respiration to make ATP. When the body has limited oxygen supply, the stored pyruvate becomes lactic acid. The lactic acid then goes back into the blood and into the liver which, is where the glucose is stored. The glucose and lactic acid are stored in the liver as glycogen after returning from the muscles. Although lactic acid allows the body to survive under strenuous circumstances, too much and cause the energy exerting muscles to stop working. The muscles will have minimal function until the normal process of aerobic respiration and oxygen returns due to rest. The body attempts to replenish the lack of oxygen through increasing its heart and respiration rate.[8]

Reducing lactic acid buildup in muscles

A young woman stretching before entering an intense workout

Lactic acid builds up within a person’s muscles after intense exercise. A couple days after a person completes an intense workout, muscle soreness occurs. Muscle soreness can last for many days and be extremely uncomfortable. It usually occurs from lack of stretching and pushing your body beyond its limits. Stretching is very important before and after a workout, because it reduces the chances of receiving an injury. Many believe that this muscle soreness is the result of the lactic acid build in their muscles. This belief is false. Lactic acid has no relation to muscle soreness occurring after a physical activity. [8]Although lactic acid build up can cause muscle soreness and discomfort, this pain only applies to muscles in action and not the aftermath.[9]

Lactic acid can cause much discomfort and it can seem unavoidable when entering intense workouts. When lactic acid builds up in muscles, the oh level increase, which cause acidosis. Acidosis can cause and may lead to pain. Before beginning an intense workout, there are way to reduce the effects of lactic acid build up within the muscles. These tactics cannot remove the effect of lactic acid metabolism, but they can reduce them. As mentioned previously, stretching is a very important asset to reducing lactic acid buildup. Stretching before a vigorous workout can allow a person’s muscles to release lactic acid that has started to form. It also loosens a person’s muscles, which creates more flexibility. Another way is drinking lots of water. Water not only keeps a person hydrated, but it flushes out excess lactic acid. Electrolytes assist in reducing lactic acid build up as well, so sports drinks are also advised when participating in intense exercise. Vitamin C and potassium release lactic acid buildup and speed up the recovery process. When working out one specific muscle group repeatedly, lactic acid quickly forms. Alternating muscles groups gives a person’s muscles an opportunity to rest, while the other groups receive a workout. This process also gives your muscles an opportunity to recover. Continuing to work out causes a person’s muscles to become used to the constant strain of workouts, resulting in less pain. The foods that are used to fuel a person’s body play a part in reducing lactic acid. Foods that are high in protein and the consumption of leafy vegetables assist in muscle repair. Lefty vegetables produce alkaline, which reduces lactic acid. [10]


The effects of nutrition in reducing the build up of lactic acid.


  1. Lactic acid Wikipedia. Web. last modified November 6, 2016. Unknown Author.
  2. What is Lactic Acid? Wise Geek. Web. last modified November 6, 2016.Unknown Author.
  3. Sanders, RobertLactic acid not athlete's poison, but an energy source - if you know how to use it EurekAlert!. Web. last modified November 6, 2016.
  4. Bumgardner, Wendy Anaerobic Metabolism - Definition and Example Very well. Web. last modified October 23, 2016.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Griffin, Sharon E. Aerobic vs Anaerobic: What is The Difference? My Food Web. last modified October 23, 2016.
  6. Lactic Acid in Muscles Med Guidance. Web. last modified October 23, 2016. Unknown Author.
  7. Formation of lactic acid in muscle tissue Ivy Rose Holistic. Web. last modified October 23, 2016. Unknown Author.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Roth, Stephen M. Why does lactic acid build up in muscles? And why does it cause soreness? Scientific American. Web. last modified October 23, 2016.
  9. Quinn, Elizabeth Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) verywell. Web. last modified November 6, 2016.
  10. Lactic Acid in Muscles Med Guidance. Web. last modified November 6, 2016. Unknown Author.