What Causes Lactic Acid Accumulation In Muscles?

Lactic Acid Accumulation In Muscles

Lactic acid is a chemical compound that is a topic of many discussions for decades. Many people know that this is what causes your muscles to tense during an intense session of workout.

However, not many understand the science behind the formation of lactic acid. In addition, lactic acid is often viewed as the culprit that prevents you from working out to your full potential, whether at the gym or on the track.

So, what causes lactic acid accumulation in muscles, and how can you get rid of it? Find out the answers below.

What is lactic acid?

Lactic acid, molecular formula CH3CH(OH)COOH, is an organic compound that belongs to the group of carboxylic acids. In its pure state, lactic acid is white but colorless when it dissolves. Pure lactic acid melts at 18° C. The other names of lactic acid are α-hydroxypropionic acid, 2-hydroxypropanoic acid, milk acid, or simply lactate.

The organic compound is present in the muscles and blood of humans and animals. Lactic acid is also found in plant juices and the soil in small quantities.

What Causes Lactic Acid Accumulation In Muscles?

The accumulation of lactate in the muscles is a direct result of anaerobic respiration. Power exercise moves such as sprinting causes the body to require more oxygen. Since the body cannot produce enough energy through aerobic respiration, it also produces energy through anaerobic respiration.

In anaerobic respiration mode, the body breaks down glucose into pyruvate. Furthermore, NADH, which is a key coenzyme in metabolism, converts the pyruvate into lactate through the process of anaerobic glycolysis. When the body is undergoing a rapid biochemical process due to a higher requirement of energy, pyruvate produces very high levels of lactate very quickly.

Under normal conditions, the concentration of lactate in a human body is between 1 and 2mM. However, during intense physical activity, the lactate concentration can spike and reach up to 22mM, which is significantly higher. According to one research, such high levels of lactic acid can take up to 8 hours to return to normal.

Lactic acid is important for generating another metabolic coenzyme, NAD+, to ensure a constant supply of energy. However, during a high-energy activity such as power lifting, the respiratory system cannot keep pace with the high amount of hydrogen ions that interconnect to form NADH. In addition, the body also cannot generate enough NAD+, which leads to high concentrations of lactic acid in the muscles.

The formation of lactic acid in the muscles is often considered the reason behind cramping and other unpleasant effects. However, the body forms lactic acid due to a good reason. The lactate in the muscles acts as a buffer during intense physical activities and reduces acidity in the muscles.

Lactic Acid Accumulation In Muscles


How do I get rid of lactic acid in my muscles?

The accumulation or building up of lactic acid in the muscles typically occurs during high-intensity physical training. Some of the most common types of physical activity where this occurs are agility training, sprinting, and power lifting.

It is often characterized by:

  • Muscle stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle soreness

In severe cases, the symptoms of lactic acid build-up can include:

  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • General weakness in the body
  • Yellowing of the skin and/or eyes
  • Burning or tingling sensation in the muscles
  • Numbness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

To get rid of lactic acid accumulation in the muscles, there are several ways:

Improve your breathing technique

Improving your breathing can be easier said than done while doing power lifting. However, breathing deeply and purposefully during a workout can help you get rid of lactate formation. In addition, deep breathing can also bring the lactate back to normal very quickly.

According to one study, athletes who engaged in deep breathing even while not working out showed reduced chances of developing lactic acid. So, regardless of whether you are doing a heavy workout or not, try to inculcate the habit of deep breathing.

Keep your muscles hydrated

Keeping your muscles and body sufficiently hydrated is paramount. Drinking water before exercise, during, and after you finish is a quick and effective way to eliminate lactic acid. Water not only keeps your muscles from getting sore but also helps in the quicker elimination of lactic acid if it accumulates during a sprint or power lifting.

Take breaks

Take frequent breaks during an intense physical workout to prevent and eliminate lactic acid in the muscles. In addition, consider taking a day off while training hard. Taking a break from rigorous physical activity allows your body to eliminate excess lactate in the muscles. Besides, resting is also a fantastic way for muscle recovery, especially if you engage in intense physical training.

How to prevent lactic acid accumulation in the muscles

Increase your intake of magnesium

When your body is low in magnesium, lactate builds up faster in the muscles. According to one study, increasing the levels of magnesium in the body can counteract this biochemical process. Higher levels of magnesium can also prevent the body from exhausting its energy quicker.

Consider taking a magnesium supplement or take an Epsom salt bath frequently before an intense physical workout. You can also add magnesium-rich foods such as legumes, dark leafy greens, and nuts in your diet.

Fill up on orange juice

One study observed that those who drink orange juice before a workout did not develop lactic acid as quickly as those who did not drink the juice. These individuals also did not fatigue as quickly, and their physical performance improved a great deal.

Orange juice is typically rich in folate and vitamin C. So the next time you engage in some power lifting or go on a sprint, drink a glass of orange juice.

Warm sufficiently and stretch your muscles

Stretching your muscles sufficiently before and after exercise is a fantastic way to prevent lactic acid formation. It helps to relieve muscle tension and improve circulation so your body can work faster as more oxygen gets into your body.

Increased circulation in the muscles also helps you get rid of lactate that accumulates during physical activity.

Jason Shaw is an experienced bodybuilder, gym owner, nutritionist and content creator for many websites. He has competed at a high level and wants to bring that experience in muscle building, fitness and nutrition including supplements to our many readers, whether you're a skinny guy want to build muscle or a seasoned bodybuilder.

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