During exercise, your body moves oxygen through its muscles to produce energy. During intense exercise, like sprinting or lifting heavy weights, energy requirements are more than your body can handle with the oxygen it’s capable of generating. In this case, the body metabolizes glucose to deliver energy to the muscles. The metabolized glucose, called pyruvate, is converted into lactate. When lactate accumulates at high levels in the blood and muscles, it creates acidity called lactic acidosis, which causes muscle fatigue and at high levels can interfere with muscle recovery. While the condition isn’t life threatening, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the buildup of lactic acid.
Hydrate with water or an electrolyte-replacement drink, which can prevent buildup of water-soluble lactic acid. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. By then, you’re likely already dehydrated. The American Council on Exercise recommends hydrating with 16 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before a workout and then 7 to 10 additional ounces of water for every 20 to 30 minutes of exercise.
Maintain consistent activity. Those who exercise frequently are more physically fit and require less glucose to burn for energy, which means less lactic acid buildup. According to WebMD, a physically fit person has a higher lactate threshold, a measure of blood vessel and heart fitness.
Challenge yourself gradually. Make sure to stay challenged, but don’t increase intensity too fast or all at once. Add weight, repetitions, minutes or miles gradually over a set period of time to maintain healthy levels of lactic acid.
Know when to back off. As you start to feel your muscles burn or you struggle to breathe, slow down until you catch your breath so your body can deliver more oxygen to the muscles. Moreover, alternate periods of activity with periods of active and inactive rest as appropriate.
Stretch immediately after your workout. One of the most overlooked but essential aspects of a workout, stretching helps release lactic acid and counteracts trauma to the muscles as a result of the workout. Lactic acid disperses 30 minutes to an hour post-workout, so make sure to cool down appropriately and stretch right after. Sports medicine expert Dr. Herbert Haupt recommends stretching after a prolonged workout to reduce the buildup of lactic acid.
Use a foam roller to massage the muscles. The foam roller loosens tight muscles and reduces the buildup of lactic acid by stimulating blood flow and encouraging lymphatic drainage. It can also be used before an intense workout.
References & Resources
- Scientific American: Why Does Lactic Acid Build Up In Muscles? And Why Does It Cause Soreness?
- WebMD: Lactic Acidosis Related to Exercise
- American Council on Exercise: Healthy Hydration
- Health Status: Benefits of a Foam Roller for Tight Muscles
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Traditional Stretching Doesn’t Help, Studies Find