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Taming The Burn: Improving Your Lactic Acid Threshold

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By: Natalie Colicci, ND

We’ve all had that feeling. The sensation that our legs were on fire as we struggle to cycle to the top of a hill, or do those last two crunches. You know, the feeling that makes you say, “Wow! I must be out of shape!” or “I feel muscles hurt in places I didn’t even know I had them!”

Congratulations! You’ve hit your lactic acid threshold.

In our cells there are two basic ways to make energy: aerobic (which requires the presence of oxygen) and anaerobic (which doesn’t). Most of the time we use the aerobic system, but when this system runs out of oxygen, as what happens with more intense exercise, anaerobic energy mechanisms kick in. The end product of anaerobic exercise is lactic acid. It was once believed that lactic acid was the end of the energy story. However, new studies indicate that lactic acid can be used to produce large amounts of glycogen, a substitute for glucose, that can quickly fuel your muscles in the absence of glucose.

During low intensity exercise, the body is usually able to keep up with demands for oxygen by the muscle cells. However, when there is an increase in demand, the body quickly ramps up its ability to break down glucose for energy. This metabolic overdrive causes an increase in a molecule called pyruvate. Under intense physical demand, pyruvate can go either of two ways. It can it can be used for extreme energy making right then and now, or it can be converted to lactic acid and used later. You can only use so much pyruvate, and if the cells cannot can not burn it fast enough, more pyruvate will wind up as lactic acid. You now have an over abundance of lactic acid floating around.

This is the lactic acid threshold. You’re exercising beyond the capacity of the muscle cells to keep up. The accumulation of lactic acid causes the acidity in your muscle cells to rise which then leads to muscle fatigue.

The key to increasing your lactic threshold (and thus increasing your exercise capability) lies in improving your body’s ability to oxidize lactic acid for energy production.

So how do we do this? First, we need to provide our cells with enough oxygen and the ability to use it. This increases the aerobic energy mechanisms and helps to oxidize lactic acid. The best way to do this is of course to train and condition your body by regular exercise. As you do this, your cells learn and become more efficient at their jobs. However, through simple supplementation, you can support your body’s effort to achieve a high lactic acid threshold faster.

  • Creatine: This supplement is neither a mineral, vitamin nor herb, but rather an “organic acid.” When creatine hits your muscle tissue it “buffers” the acidity which leads to muscle fatigue. Creatine also decreases the formation of lactic acid. In humans, approximately half of the stored creatine originates from food (mainly from fresh meat), so the type O diet is usually creatine rich. Plant based diets are usually low in creatine, so type A may want to use a creatine supplement if they are planning to train hard. Type B and AB can also benefit from creatine for reasons that are theirs alone: Creatine provides a bit of “non-protein nitrogen” which types B and AB can really benefit from.
  • Hydroxy-methyl-butyrate (HMB): helps muscle cells burn fatty acids for energy, which decreases the lactic acid threshold by reducing the requirement for carbohydrate sources of energy. Foods high in HMB are:
    • Type A: Alfalfa Sprouts, Pineapple, Asparagus, Avocado, Cauliflower, Grapefruit
    • Type AB: Alfalfa Sprouts, Pineapple, Asparagus, Cauliflower, Catfish, Grapefruit
    • Type B: Red Meats, Asparagus, Cauliflower, Catfish, Grapefruit
    • Type O: Red Meats, Asparagus, Grapefruit
  • Manganese: This essential mineral has been well documented in its ability to oxidize lactic acid. A supplement formula for maintaining healthy connective tissue (and a good source of manganese) is Connectivar.
  • Vitamin C: One of the most potent lactic acid oxidizers is Vitamin C. When it comes to supplementation with Vitamin C, the best sources are food sources, such as the rose hips, acerola cherry and elderberries found inProberry Caps .

If you plan on using these supplements to help build your lactic acid threshold, they should be taken anywhere from 30-60 minutes before you begin your workout.

Now next time you are out running, fast walking or cycling you can look confidently at that hill on the horizon and whisper to yourself: ‘I can do that!”

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