Racing flats? Check. Stopwatch? Check. Baking soda?
There are various dietary supplements that are purported to enhance exercise performance by reducing lactic acid levels in the blood during exercise. Most such claims are based on outdated beliefs about the effects of lactic acid on exercise performance.
First of all, the muscles do not produce lactic acid during exercise. They produce a very similar substance called lactate. Until recently, it was believed that lactate produced by the muscles during exercise caused fatigue by making the muscles too acidic to function properly. However, it has been discovered that lactate does not contribute to rising muscle acidity during intense exercise. What’s more, increased muscle acidity is now known to be only a minor factor contributing to muscle fatigue.
This does not mean that all supplements affecting lactate metabolism and muscle acidity during exercise are non-performance-enhancing. While lactate is not among the acids that contribute to muscle fatigue, and while muscular acidosis is only a minor factor contributing to exercise fatigue, it’s still a factor, and there are supplements known to enhance exercise performance by slowing the decline in muscle pH balance that is normally seen during intense exercise. Let’s take a look at them.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid. In the body it is combined with another amino acid, histidine, to form a compound called carnosine, which buffers acids produced by the muscles during exercise. Studies on the effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance have produced mixed results, but some have shown increases in anaerobic capacity (or fatigue resistance at very high intensities). The beta-alanine dosage level that has been proven effective in studies is 3-6 grams daily. Most experts say 1 to 4 grams daily is plenty.