Lactic Acid is often the cause debate among the fitness community. Some saying it causes pain for days on end, others saying it doesn’t do anything at all. Visit any of the public forums and you’ll get so many different thoughts and opinions you’ll lose track! To try and clear the air, we wanted to explain what lactic acid is, based on the most up to date research from leading clinics. And to clear up a few misconceptions while we’re at it.
What is Lactic Acid?
Lactic acid, also known as lactate, is produced by cells during anaerobic respiration (the method by which cells make energy with oxygen).
We always have a low level of lactic acid in our blood, deposited by red blood cells and muscle. When we exercise particularly hard, for example during a high-intensity exercise session, our body produces much more lactate than usual.
The build-up of lactic acid results in a painful burning sensation in the muscles. Generally, once you stop exercising, the pain subsides fairly quickly and the lactic acid levels drop back down to normal.
Lactic acid is our body’s natural way of protecting the muscles from overexertion and burnout. It is perfectly natural and healthy.
So why all the Confusion?
Usually, after a heavy workout, you can start to feel muscle pains and aches. For a long time, this has mistakenly been blamed on lactic acid, and unfortunately, the myth persists among many people, including some health professionals.
The pain and soreness you feel in your muscles in the days following high levels of activity are called DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
DOMS is usually caused by a range of issues such as muscle cell damage, fatigue or elevated metabolites in the cell tissue. It usually occurs when there is excess fatigue on the muscles, too much muscle vibration, or the muscles haven't been sufficiently rested and hydrated.
Below, Curtis Sironen from the Manly SeaEagles chats to us about Bauerfeind Compression.
What does this mean for me?
While this can all be a bit confusing, it’s simple to look at it this way:
Lactic Acid can cause pain if you’re exercising too much. It is your body's way of stopping you from causing damage. The pain will subside very shortly after stopping.
DOMS causes pain and soreness in the days following exercise and is a result of fatigue and stress on the muscles.
To put it even simpler: Lactic Acid = Good, DOMS = Bad.
How can it be stopped?
If you start to feel the burning pain in your muscles when exercising, it’s best to gently slow down and keep the intensity low for a little while.
Lactic acid is your body’s way of telling you you're doing too much, and listening to it and tailoring your workout is the best thing to do.
Compression: wearing medical-grade sports compression both during and after exercise is one of the best ways to stabilise the muscles and recover from fatigue and pain.
Bauerfeind compression has been proven to reduce muscle vibrations and boost blood flow to improve circulation and remove lactic acid and fluid build-up. Learn more: Is this compression an athletes secret weapon?
DOMS is important to address though. Sometimes it’s a symptom of incorrect form in exercise, underlying health issues or unsustainable habits, and if left untreated can deteriorate into muscle strains and tears among other problems.
The two best ways to prevent DOMS occurring are:
Stretching and taking it easy: Warm-up and down before and after each session, and rather than just raising the intensity, focus on shorter reps targeting different muscles.
So get out there and work out, take care of your muscles and embrace your lactic acid, it’s your friend after all!
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