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Why Lactic Acid is Produced During Exercise -

Lactic Acidosis in Sport - Reasons and Cures

Lactic Acid was discovered in the late 1700s by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele and in 1808, Jons Jacob Berzelius discovered that lactic acid was produced as a natural by-product by the body when placed under intense stresses and strains. Sometimes called Lactosis, or Acid Lactosis as well.

We all have it but there are several medical reasons why excessive amounts of lactic acid can exist within your muscles, but the most common cause is vigorous exercise.  Extreme lactic acid usually produces discomfort in the large muscle groups. Acid removal is a chief concern for athletes because even though the discomfort is temporary, it can impact your physical performance and recovery.

Why It Happens

Our bodies create lactic acid naturally in small amounts to assist with various human biological functions. Occasionally, this acid is produced at a rate faster than your body can naturally manage and when it does, this effect is called Lactic Acidosis.

In exceptional situations, the excess production of lactic acid can be completely debilitating for example if your exercise intensity is such that your muscles need more fuel than is readily available.

According to Scientists, when your muscles run out of their primary fuel (Oxygen) obtained from within the blood and fed via the lungs, lactic acid build up occurs as a by-product of Glucose in the body being used as a fuel substitute to oxygen. This acid build up causes discomfort, primarily in the form of a kind of burning sensations in your muscles and is often felt more in the legs.  Endurance runners, cyclists and rowers who are particularly susceptible in both the legs and arms and mountaineers who climb above the level at which adequate amounts of oxygen can be obtained from air, all often suffer with this and we've all witnessed elite athletes collapse and vomit at the end of extreme races grimacing with pain. Witness Lactic Acidosis in action.........

When Lactic Acid is Produced in the Muscle

So how do you get rid of it and if possible, avoid it?  Once you decrease the intensity of your exercise your body begins to naturally remove lactic acid and re-absorb it....this guys is why we should always "Warm Down" and don't just come to a grinding halt.  The acid build up is gradually reduced because the need for the glucose fuel substitute has gone because you are now getting appropriate amounts of oxygen relative to your exertion whereas before, your muscles were craving more oxygen than you were able to supply so acid by product begins to dissipate.

The muscle discomfort associated with the acidosis also dissipates as your exercise intensity decreases. Since this acid elimination happens naturally, additional steps may not be needed to remove the lactic acid. The natural elimination of lactic acid generally happens within an hour after you slow down but this can vary considerably. 

Other Removal Techniques

Even though acid removal occurs naturally however, sometimes additional means for removing lactic acid can be of benefit.  Hot and cold/ice baths and sports massages are commonly used to try to expedite acid removal but we don't all have access to our very own personal masseuse or ice bath. 

A more-gentle but very effective technique can be the use of appropriately structured Compression Garments that in effect, gently massage and squeeze the body before, during or after exercise.  But the best method is by far the Warm Down technique to take your heart rate and oxygen demand gently back to its normal state in a controlled manner.  The above techniques add additional value to the process and can expedite the outcome.

How to prevent Lactic Acid

As you meet and exceed various fitness thresholds, lactic acid accumulation is not completely preventable.  However, as you gradually and progressively become more physically fit, your body will become more efficient at using and managing its primary oxygen fuel. 

This ultimately equates to a decrease in the occurrence of lactic acidosis and possibly decreased intensity of the effects. Ultimately it's all down to fitness but we all try and push ourselves to our limit to gain maximum benefit when training or playing sport so some effect of acidosis is likely in all of us.