Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lactic acid is your friend

Everyone knows that lactic acid and lactate are evil, right? After all, lactic acid causes the "burn" and fatigue. And one of the goals of training for many athletes is to raise their lactate threshold. That's what we've been told for decades so it must be true, right?

In fact, over the past decade the science keeps heaping on that both lactic acid and lactate are far more beneficial than detrimental. Although the lactate level in the blood during exercise has long been used as an indicator of aerobic fitness, this is now considered to be the result of correlation rather than causation. 
Since lactic acid, which quickly becomes lactate while spinning off a hydrogen ion, is a major topic in training for all outdoor athletes we'll be revisiting this topic in the future. For the time being, the basics of "lactate threshold" training--in particular, intervals--remain sound even though the reasons for them are changing.
In the meantime, this recent study provides a strong indication that lactate is essential for the release of human growth hormone. Check your spam folder and you'll probably learn that HGH is responsible for innumerable health miracles. And read the sports and entertainment news pages to find that it's a favorite juice to shoot up for desperate athletes and has-been actors.
What this study found is that 82% of people who are incapable of producing lactate while exercising (a rare condition called McArdle's disease) also do not produce HGH during their workouts. It strongly suggests that higher intensities, which produce more lactate in a given time period, can be more healthful than low-intensity exercise. 
The bottom line: don't fear lactic acid or lactate. 

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