TL;DR Science: Lactic Acid

By Shang Chen
January 13, 2021 · 1 minute read

Biology

Earth Science

Biological Engineering

Lactic acid is just one of the many ways that science impacts our daily lives. From swimming to hiking to just going about our daily lives, lactic acid is constantly being produced.

What is Lactic acid?

Lactic acid is also known as lactate, is one byproduct of glycolysis, a form of anaerobic metabolism. Putting things into simpler terms, the human body produces energy in two ways—one using oxygen and one without. Anaerobic metabolism is the name of the process your body uses to produce energy when it cannot deliver oxygen to your muscles. There are a variety of reasons why your body cannot deliver oxygen to your cells.  During anaerobic metabolism, your body breaks down stores of sugars called glucose in the process of glycolysis. This process produces energy for your muscles and lactic acid, which builds up in your muscles. Lactic acid will continue to build up until your body switches back to using oxygen to fuel itself, in which the cells will begin to break down lactic acid for energy.

This is where I tell you something most people don’t realize. This lactic acid builds up in your muscles is not actually a bad thing. Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid build-up does not cause muscle soreness after exercise. Lactic acid begins breaking down as soon as your cells return to aerobic respiration, a.k.a you catch your breath. Furthermore, new research finds that cells actually also break down lactic acid to produce even more energy.

To find out more about lactic acid and the process of anaerobic metabolism, check out this video from Bozeman Science:

TL;DR

Lactic acid is the byproduct of glycolysis, which occurs when your body needs energy but does not have time to use oxygen to fuel its cells.

Sources:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060420235214.htm

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-lactic-acid-buil/

https://www.breakthroughs.com/foundations-science/science-fact-or-science-fiction-lactic-acid-buildup-causes-muscle-fatigue-and

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About The Author

Shang Chen is on the executive team of SciTeens and is studying Data Science and Economics at UC Berkeley. His hobbies include working out, cooking, and speed-running video games. Feel free to reach out to him with comments, questions, and future article recommendations at Shang@SciTeens.org.

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