Remember growing up and playing sports? Every day? The tough gym classes where the coach would make you run more than you thought you could? I do, and I remember one specific instance in the 7th grade.
We were doing a track portion of gym class indoors. It was winter time and I was playing on the basketball team. We weren’t very good, which lead to many, many suicides. You know, the punishment where you sprint across a gym floor, bend over and touch a line, sprint back and keep going?
During gym class the next day I was telling the coach my legs were sore. I was hoping he’d let me out of class, but he told me it was lactic acid. He explained when you use your muscles too much you get a build up of lactic acid. It’s bad for you if you are competing, but since this was gym class it didn’t matter. That line of thinking was the standard belief until this year. It’s amazing that as such an advanced society we still have no idea how the body really works.
Dr. George A. Brooks of the University of California at Berkeley thought the common wisdom of lactic acid in the muscles was wrong. Instead of hurting the muscle he thought that it provided a benefit. He was right.
The story of lactic acid is fascinating. It starts over 100 years ago when Otto Meyerhof made a mistaken conclusion that lactic acid wasn’t used by muscles for fuel, but actually turned muscles off. That has long been the thought of coaches and sports medicine specialists for years. The exact opposite is true.
When your exerting muscle energy during exercise your body floods your muscles with lactic acid. Sometimes the amount of lactic acid is too much, which is why doctors commonly thought that lactic acid would inhibit performance. What Dr. Brooks found is that muscles use lactic acid faster than any other form of energy.
As for the old myth of muscle soreness due to lactic acid, that’s been busted as well. Lactic acid leaves your system within hours of exercising, while soreness comes into play 24-48 hours later.