Lactic Acid’s Coming Out Of The Closet


I’ve had one foot in the world of endurance sports and another foot in the ‘natural’ health care world for quite a while. I’ve been an endurance sports athlete (running and cycling) since the early 1970’s and a chiropractor (chiropracticking) since 1985.

Who would have thought that 1985 would seem longer ago than 1972? Time plods when you’re doing it for a living.

I’ve heard a lot about lactic acid in that time, much of it silly talk. But more and more, the talk’s starting to make sense.

Now Dr. Gabe Mirkin has joined the chorus of ‘right reasoning’ and points out that muscles may in fact contract more efficiently (within reason) while in the presence of lactic acid.

Muscle contraction relies on a transfer of potassium ions across the muscle cell membrane. One of the inhibitors of this process is the chloride ion, which keeps the potassium ions from getting back into the muscle, ready for the next contraction. Apparently lactic acid inhibits the chloride ion, enabling potassium to get transported back across the cell membrane ready to work again.

So, in my book, that would be an advantage.

But What Of The ‘Silly Talk’?

There’s an ongoing refrain emanating from the lips of some ‘body workers’ that’s made little sense to me, but because it’s repeated often enough, it’s wedged itself into the ‘body of knowledge’.

Here it is…

Following a vigorous massage the practitioner will say something like, ‘you may be sore tomorrow because I’ve released a lot of lactic acid from your muscles. Drink a lot of water to flush it out’.

Lactate threshold tests fly in the face of this reasoning. When you’re doing a lactate threshold test, you’re being monitored for your ability to use oxygen to break down the lactate as quickly (within reason) as it’s being produced. When your level of exertion reaches the level at which you can’t process enough oxygen to keep up with the lactate production, there is a sharp rise in the blood lactate levels and the tester can determine your level of aerobic fitness.

But don’t forget, the lactate’s being removed at a rate just short of when it spiked. so when you reduce the exertion level, it’s once again removed about as fast as it’s produced. Reduce the level far enough and the lactate is ‘cleared’ just about as fast as it’s produced.


This leads the inquiring mind to wonder about the old fashioned ‘lactic acid thinking’. If we’re able to clear lactate acid out almost as fast as we produce it (except in extreme exercise), how could it be ‘hanging around’ for hours (or in the case of the lard-ass who never does anything more vigorous than lifting one cheek off the sofa to fart- for decades) waiting to be released at the deft hand of the body worker?

Is lactic acid sticky or something? When Bubba sprinted around to third base at the 1997 softball tournament did he produce lactic acid that now longs to be released by a vigorous massage?

I’ve always understood the muscles to be relatively well perfused with blood, and lactic acid to be an unstable molecule, splitting into lactate and hydrogen ions. Hurray for our side, there are even clear-thinking scientists who tell us that lactic acid is part of a normal pathway to energy production.

So like the title suggests, the truth about lactic acid is coming out of the closet.

‘Make Sure You Hydrate…’

And don’t get me started on the ‘I’ve got to hydrate every 20 minutes fetish’…

Now Even 'Weak-sauce' Dogs Hydrate!

Back in the dark ages I ran a 2:17 marathon at Boston, taking a couple sips from pathetic Dixie cups. Modern ‘hydration thinking’ would have had me dropping over like a wilted piece of lettuce ten miles into the race.

It’s now gotten to the point at which some people have to take a break halfway through their 15 minute chiropractic treatment to hydrate, all the while dribbling urine onto my treatment table from their over-inflated bladders.

Makes you wonder how Wino Walter survives on only the ‘fruit of the vine’, not having tasted filtered water since the 1990’s. Even more puzzling is the fact that while he’s chronically dehydrated and he’s never done an herbal detox program, he hasn’t had a head cold for a very long time.

Of course I exaggerate, but please humor me. I’m practicing for the day I run for public office.

Speaking of public office, and of course the flip-flopping that’s so much a part of politics…let me contradict my rantings about the over-utilization of hydration.

I now present to you the argument of how important it is for you to go to Bike Nashbar to see what deals they’re carrying in the water bottle world. I never want to see you panting down the road with a bottled water container in your mouth.

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