A Simplified Knowledge On Lactic Acid Posted on February 10, 2018

By Rameshon


Picture 1 – Lactate Threshold

There was once, suddenly, I became very passionate to understand the meaning of lactic acid. I read different books with chapters on lactic acid and found the meaning very difficult. Different terminologies have been used on the word lactic acid, for examples, there were terms like anaerobic threshold, lactic threshold, lactate production, lactic acid, etc. In fact, I was reading more books in depth and I did not get anywhere in knowing the real meaning. The more I tried to find, I realised that the more I did not know about lactic acid.

It was only till I met my supervisor, for Physical Education and Sports Science research, in Loughborough University, Dave Williams. He came forward to explain in simplified way on how lactic acid is formed and how it is cleared in the bloodstream etc, as he was also a triathlete. Hence, he has the experiential knowledge. 

Dave Williams was teaching in year 1993 and he always does put outside his room door, a time table for any student who any query. I was shocked, that at the stated time, when I  went to meet him, he was 100% there to see me. Till now, I follow his way of doing things. Usually, my night time group training, if they want to see me, I give a slot, within a week or the week after to do up a 2-3 months race programme. This habit of mine actually came from him.

He told that once an athletes exercises, the work rate goes up such that there is a corresponding increasing in usage of oxygen and increase in the blood lactate, through increase in hydrogen ions in the blood in the cellular level. Bicarbonate which is produced by the blood, will come forward to clear. If one increases the intensity bout of exercise to maximum, the hydrogen ions increases in the blood exponentially such that it can even go to 12 blood millimole and at this point, one will see that to maintain the speed is not easy, as bicarbonate is not enough to clear. One will go into oxygen dept, inhaling not enough oxygen to a corresponding exhalation of carbon dioxide from the body, by the passage way through nostril and mouth.

Dave Willaims told me simply that the body, during an exercise bout, will have to use breath, and at the same time, as the speed gets faster, the blood millimole gets higher. For sprinter it is 4 blood millimole and for long distance runners it is 2 blood millimole. The sprinter can run with more that 2 blood millimole but not the long distance runners. That is why sprinters run fast for sprinting events. For example, if the blood millimole goes higher than 4 during a 200m race, the sprinter will find it hard to run towards the last potion of the race, may be around last 50metres, depending when the lactate tolerance is too high to bear, and it becomes very difficult to lift up the legs, where the legs becomes wobbly.  

As for the long distance athletes, for example, if a 5km, 15min 00sec  kind of runner runs the first one kilometres in 2min 40sec – 2min 45sec, instead of 3min per kilometres  it is a known fact that the lactic acid in blood would have crossed 2 blood millimole. It becomes hard to tolerate the high lactate in the blood. In the subsequent kilometre, one will start running slower. There is also the feeling of one is running at same speed of fast running. It is a disillusion created thus. That means, the runner is running slow, but the feeling is such that the runner thinks he is running the same speed as the first kilometre run. It is only towards the end that one may really see the speed goes down, significantly. This can be seen in Army and school 2.4km NAPFA test, annually.

So, an understanding of lactic acid is important. Some runners have a limit of 1.8 blood millimole as maximum to bear lactate tolerance. Some actually have 2.2 blood millimole. It is, as such, individual specific. Over time, the blood lactate could go lower. That means, at the same speed the lactate is about 1.6 blood millimole instead of 1.7 blood millimole, for a 3min 30sec, 1km run.

Edited By Tan Mariviv