Our Friend Lactic Acid

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

Lactic acid often gets a bad rap. We’re always cursing it when we put in too big an effort and are suffering the consequences. You know what? It is actually our friend. Lactic acid is a fuel, not a caustic waste product. It’s responsible for creating more ATP (ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism) and is also more efficient at traveling between muscle tissue than glucose (the sugar ATP is made from).

Every time we move, lactic acid is produced. It is constantly produced and reabsorbed into our muscles all day long. However, when we engage in very intense exercise, also known as anaerobic activity, lactate is produced faster than the tissues can remove it, causing the concentration to rise.

As our bodies break down glucose as fuel for our muscles, the glucose gets broken down to lactate and hydrogen ions are released. But you know what? It’s actually the hydrogen that causes problems! The hydrogen ions cause pH to fall, creating a state of acidosis, which then leads to the pain and discomfort we always blame on the "lactic acid". BUT, the lactic acid then tirelessly works in our favor by helping to remove the hydrogen ions to our liver where they are then converted back to glucose. A thankless job…

I’ve missed quite a few important details in the whole process in the interest of keeping it short and sweet. You can find those details here

The best thing you can do to raise your tolerance is train yourself to increase your lactate threshold. By performing regularly with increased levels of lactic acid, your body will adapt and be able to handle the load. This is best done through interval training and maintaining sub-threshold intensities for extended periods of time (8-20 minutes) at 85-90% of your maximum heart rate. For example, maintaining 80-85% of your maximum HR for 8 minutes will gently and efficiently ‘push’ your lactate threshold up to higher levels.

I’ll write about an easy method to test your lactate threshold HR or power output in a future post.

Editors' Picks