When we talk about lactic acid in the running / sports world in general, it is often a sign of a deadly enemy. Today, I would like to clarify a little bit the terms lactic acid, lactate, toxins and waste. These are terms that are often stuck to lactic acid. If the analysis of lactic acid production in muscles is indeed one of the essential factors of performance... The way in which these terms are used in everyday language is often approximate or even totally false.
The truth about lactic acid
"I am lactic." Who hasn't heard that sentence about an athletics stadium? It is a great classic that has been perpetuated from coach to athlete for years. I know, I've been there, I too said I felt the effects of that damn lactic acid when I was doing the 800m in particular... But the truth is that lactic acid in the muscles is the complete opposite of waste, it's even one of the main elements of energy creation. Without going into detail, our muscles create the energy that allows them to move forward in three ways. The two main ones are related processes called glycolysis.
This glycolysis degrades glycogen (the format in which "sugar" is stored by the muscles) to transform it into energy that can be used by the body. This process can be performed in the presence of oxygen (aerobic) and without the presence of oxygen (anaerobic). It is in this second case that lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid as such exists only very briefly since it is immediately split in two to form lactate. It is this lactate that can accumulate as the effort progresses. And at that moment too, as he takes on his role as a bad boy. Its accumulation would be the cause of all the ailments: cramps, muscle burning sensation... The higher the lactate level in the blood, the worse it would be?
When is lactic acid produced?
All the time! All the time! This is one of the elements that is very little known when we talk about energy production chains. No, there is not a slow, running pace, where you are 100% aerobic. And no, you don't switch 100% to anaerobic once you pass the famous anaerobic threshold. This very simplistic view is wrong. Our body is much more complex and above all intelligent than that. The aerobic and anaerobic processes therefore both start in the same way: glycolysis. In between, aerobics is the most economical way to create energy. But this process is slow, it cannot provide a significant amount of energy. It therefore requires running slowly to make it the most widely used channel. As a result, the faster we accelerate and the more we depend on anaerobic conditions, the more lactic acid we produce!
The magic of lactate recycling!
At a low to moderate pace, the principle is that the little lactate produced by the muscles has the ability to be completely recycled/reused... Among other things to create energy! That's why we say that we could run indefinitely in fundamental endurance. A little lactate is produced in fundamental endurance via the anaerobic process. But it is produced in a quantity that the body knows how to manage, it is recycled at the same rate as it is produced. It does not accumulate and we have no problem with the disorders associated with it. And this magic is very dependent on our level of training... because to be effective at recycling lactic acid, you simply have to work on this process!
Some of the lactate is reused directly by the muscle to produce energy. Another part is sent in the blood to organs that will use it. The liver, heart, brain or other muscles will also use lactate as an energy source! Useful for what has long been considered waste! But for this magic to work, it is necessary to train all these processes and make them more efficient to treat more lactates and stay longer outside the red zone...
READ >> Everything you need to know about the anaerobic threshold to improve your endurance
When the body no longer manages lactic acid....
In the end, the faster we run, the less aerobic the energy we need to cover our energy needs. The faster you run, the more anaerobic you use and the more lactate you produce. Lactic acid is no longer fully recycled and accumulates in the blood. To a certain extent there is a balance. But when you get to certain speeds and especially around the famous anaerobic threshold, nothing goes right anymore... The lactate curve is, as you can see on the graph... exponential! The faster you go, the more you produce... lactic acid is not a waste product of glycolysis!The anaerobic threshold is the moment when lactate production starts to soar. This is a sign that the effort required is intense, that the aerobic system is no longer able to provide the energy necessary to maintain the pace. Any additional energy production will then have to be done via lactic anaerobic anaerobics. And therefore no more lactate production! At the same time, the maximum capacity for recycling lactates into the muscles is reached. A large part is therefore sent into the blood and the blood lactate level skyrockets....
The other organs also have a limited ability to use lactate. The latter therefore accumulates in the blood and remains there. And if the side effects, the fatigue that rises at that moment, do not seem directly related to this level of lactic acid in the blood... our "lifespan" at one speed is still directly related to this lactate level!
Recycling of lactic acid = limited capacity
There is one thing you should remember in particular from this article on lactic acid. It's because, when you've accumulated too much lactate, it's too late. I am speaking of course for your competitions but also for intense training sessions. Who hasn't had this feeling after a too fast start of burning legs, of ventilating too hard compared to what they should? When you train at a given competitive pace, you also train to tolerate effort with the lactate level that goes with it. And the body becomes more efficient at recycling the lactates produced. We therefore have a better tolerance to lactate levels at this pace and therefore a much greater specific endurance. Leaving even 10″/km too fast is to jeopardize your race.
We immediately become handicapped by lactate production that is higher than we know how to manage... and since lactate recycling has a limited capacity... you will never have the opportunity to get rid of this surplus! It's a shame to start with a handicap that we self-inflicted... When we slow down in time, we have a chance that the damage is not too serious... but to persist at a too fast pace is to sign right away for an end of the race in constant loss of speed... I do not recommend running in negative split
for nothing! Even if it doesn't always work, it's the most effective way to finish strong and not waste time!
How to accelerate the recycling of lactates?
If your 5km competition or VMA session is over and your legs are burning... don't lie on the ground to recover! because lactate recycling is done through the aerobic process as we saw above. Did you notice that after intense effort, breathing remains strong for long minutes? This is normal, it is a natural reaction to (among other things) recycle lactates faster and "cleanse" the body of this acidity. On the contrary, the right method is to stand up, walk and ventilate as much as possible. The more oxygen the body has, the more effectively it will be able to recycle it.
Practising managing lactic acid!
There are several ways to better tolerate lactic acid and therefore run faster / longer. The simplest and most effective method is still anaerobic threshold sessions. By running at a pace slightly below this threshold, we train our bodies to recycle lactates. Over time, by improving, the body creates more lactates and is able to recycle them more quickly, so we can run faster without exceeding the anaerobic threshold.
Running to the threshold is not the only method!
We can also practice tolerating acidity better and continuing to function despite it. With intense sessions, at 100% VMA and also above VMA as mid-distance sessions (e. g. 1500m speed). At these high speeds, we're going to generate a lot of lactic acid. Teaching your body to create more lactic acid and manage it is a very good method. The work is physical but also mental. You have to resist the feeling that goes with it and continue to give your best to maintain the pace. The more we are able to tolerate high lactate levels, the more we will also be able to tolerate lactic acid at lower rates.
Obviously, all gaits above the anaerobic threshold also allow this, but if you are looking to work specifically on this point, turn to this type of gaits. As an ex-half-fondman, I warn you, it stings! ????
Reconciled with lactic acid?
I'm not going to dwell any further on the subject of lactic acid, I think you have understood the idea? But roughly speaking, our goal as a long-distance runner is to "run as fast as possible with the lowest possible lactate level". We can also practice tolerating high levels of lactic acid... but in absolute terms, our time to maintain the equivalent speed will always be limited! In any case, lactic acid is not a waste, it is an essential element for the creation of energy... and even a source of energy for our aerobic sector...