The Blog

May 22, 2017

Underinformed or Misinformed on Lactate

While watching a video on Dean Karnazes, the SoS team noticed a quote that, without the knowledge of lactic acid, would lead many viewers astray.

For those of you that are unaware of who Dean is, you should know that he is an extraordinary athlete and an incredibly accomplished ultra runner. Physiologically, he is an elite level athlete. Biomechanically, he is incredibly efficient. Mentally, he is very tough. If you have seen some of the stunts he has pulled off, you will also know he is a bit of a showman. However, unless he is one of the very few who has a condition called Lactate Dehydrogenase Syndrome, Dean most certainly does produce lactate during exercise. With all of the confusion that is out there on this topic, let’s take a few minutes to clear up some details.

First and foremost, let’s straighten out some terminology and facts so we are on the same page. Lactic acid and lactate are two different things that are often confused. Even though they are very similar structurally, the body produces and uses lactate, not lactic acid. Lactate is produced under all levels of exertion, but in quantities equivalent to the level of exertion. This means, even when you are sitting on the couch eating Bon Bons, your body is producing low levels of lactate. The part that surprises many people is that lactate is also used as a fuel source by skeletal muscle, as well as the heart, brain, kidneys and liver. I know some readers might ask about the hydrogen ion associated with lactate, and we can discuss this in more detail in a later blog post. Instead of getting into the weeds on the science that governs the body, let’s get some perspective on Dean’s accomplishments and the gravity of the athletic challenges he’s taken on.

Dean is capable of doing 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, finishing the last one with a 3 hour flat marathon time. Let that sink in… Give it one more minute… We are not talking about a casual weekend warrior or Average Joe.Dean is running super fast, but he is still working at an intensity level below lactate threshold. While many might be struggling to hold a 13 minute pace to stay below threshold, Dean is strolling along at a 6:52 min/mile not stressing about holding pace. Do not let the text in the video fool you –, he does produce lactate and he does have muscle fatigue. He is able to run at these paces and for these distance because he is a well trained athlete, not because his body is absent of this substance.
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