Feel the Burn – What is happening?

Jul 29, 2022

Lactic Acidosis – What you need to know

Lactic acid build-up – I’m sure you’ve felt it before. Let’s find out what it is, why we should know about it, and what to do about it.

Lactic acidosis or lactic acid build-up is the formation of a chemical by-product in the blood. The process known as anaerobic glycolysis – the body’s utilisation of glucose for energy will create the lactic acid within the bloodstream. It consists of a burning sensation, sometime nausea as it can appear in the stomach, and will greatly inhibit performance.

Who and why?
Feel the burn!
Threshold training

Who and why?
If you have done any intense exercise before, you know about lactic acid. As I said earlier it is a byproduct of anaerobic (intense) activity. Although it used to be seen as a waste product, we now know that is no longer the case – as some of the lactate is recycled through the kidneys and used as energy in the forms of glucose and protein. It’s how we deal with the remaining that stops us from performing. It builds up in the blood after certain levels of exercise. Although it is natural cleared with exercise and time, the body needs training in regular intervals to achieve this efficiently. This is why you experience more lactic acid threshold pain when you have done intense exercise you are not used to, or had a substantial break from exercise and gone straight back to normal. It is a great reason to not progress your training too fast.

Feel the burn!
What actually happens, causes that painful painful burning sensation we know all too well. Simply put, the product is made up of lactate and hydrogen ions. Although the body can reuse some of the lactate for energy, it struggles to process the hydrogen ions – and these pesky little things interfere with effective muscle contraction. This is why you get the burns and the pains. This is what causes severe restrictions on performance. Lactic acid can also appear in your stomach, which is why some get nauseated, in the brain, and skin. It clears naturally over time, but also through lymphatic drainage. Unlike the circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have a pump – the fluids move through body movement and muscle contraction – this is why the acid stays in your system for longer without an effective cooldown. Ideally, walk around and perform so basic bodyweight exercises or stretches until your heart rate is below 100. This will really help with recovery post-exercise. Some diseases will also cause lactic acidosis, but let’s focus on running.

Threshold training
Never fear! There is a solution, and it will appear in your training programme. Threshold training is essentially practising getting your body to a place where you start producing significant amounts of lactic acid, and training in that threshold – hence the name. Scientifically we measure blood for lactate level, however, you can do this using your heart rate or race pace, which is what we will focus on. To get an estimate of speed for lactate threshold training, run flat out for 60 minutes. Your average time is what you will use for threshold training. You then use this time for your training run, start with maintaining the pace for 20 minutes – it should be a challenging run but maintainable. Start with just one, and you can always tweak the session based on your distance and goal. Build up slowly as always, and you can add a second or third repetition to match your distance with a 3-5 minute break inbetween. Remember this is distance specific, if you are a short-distance runner your intervals will not be 20 minutes. You will have at least one solely threshold-focused training session in your weekly programme, however, there will be a huge amount of cross-over to threshold training in a lot of other sessions.

Lactic acid is a byproduct of anaerobic exercise.
Hydrogen ions in your blood interfere with muscle contraction, inhibiting performance
Using threshold runs, we practice, using lactic acid effectively.
Threshold runs will vary based on your goals but there are a few easy guides to get you going!

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