It’s a common problem for runners and athletes. You work out, you push yourself to the limit, and then you feel it: a dull pain in your body that just won’t go away. It’s called lactic acid build up—and it’s not something you want to ignore!
Rest and recovery.
Rest and recovery are key for muscle repair, but they’re not just about the body. It’s also important to take time to reflect on what you did and how you can improve your performance next time. In fact, a study published in PubMed found that athletes who reflected on their performance after their workout were more likely to perform better than those who didn’t.
The good news is that rest and recovery doesn’t have to be boring! If you’re looking for ways to embrace your inner couch potato while still strengthening your muscles and improving endurance, try these exercises:
- Take a relaxing walk outside (or inside if it’s cold)
- Read a book or magazine—anything that distracts from thinking about work or other stressful activities will help relieve tension in the shoulder muscles
- Listen to music while stretching
Stretch and massage the muscle.
While you may not be able to wave a magic wand and zap it away, you can at least ease your pain. Stretch and massage the muscle after a workout to help release lactic acid. A foam roller or tennis ball can also be effective for breaking up the lactic acid so that it can be removed from your body more easily. If stretching and massaging isn’t enough, use a fascia gun or ask a friend to rub your muscles with their hands until they feel warm again.
Hydrate. Lactic acid build-up is often caused by dehydration, so it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can cause dehydration as well as aggravate stomach issues. Carbonated drinks like soda and sparkling water are also best avoided while you’re trying to get rid of lactic acid build-up because they can cause bloating or an upset stomach that may make your symptoms worse.
If you are exercising for more than an hour, consider using a sports drink instead of just water to replenish the electrolytes that your body loses through sweating—especially potassium, magnesium and sodium (salt). Sports drinks have less sugar than sodas but often contain artificial colors or flavors that some people find objectionable; they also usually contain salt which may not be appropriate for those with heart conditions.
Get some high quality protein in you.
If you want to get rid of lactic acid build up, one of the best things you can do is to consume more protein. Protein plays an important role in repairing muscle tissue and decreasing muscle soreness after intense exercise. The highest quality sources of protein are also rich in BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) which help to prevent excess build-up of lactic acid during intense training.
You can’t get rid of lactic acid, but you can prevent it from building up. The best way to do this is to stretch and massage the muscle after your workout and keep hydrated throughout. Get some high quality protein in you as well so that your body doesn’t have to rely on glycogen stores for energy during exercise.