Strategies: Lactic Acid Loopholes

Bodywork, April 1997

Strategies: Lactic Acid Loopholes
By Ken McAlpine

Pain may be the unfortunate constant when coping with lactic acid, but there are a few salvations. Say you find yourself suffering on an ambitious outing--quads burning, lungs heaving, mind wishing you were doing something else. Then suddenly, presto! Your legs magically feel better, but you have no idea why. Well, neither does science. What you've just experienced is an unexplained muscular relief commonly, but mistakenly, known as second wind--the familiar yet ethereal phenomenon that grants a reprieve at the most unexpected moments. "It's like a groove we all search for and rarely achieve," says physiologist Robert Murray, director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Barrington, Illinois. "As a scientist it intrigues me; as an athlete I'd rather just experience it." Although there are no proven ways to prompt a second wind, you can at least mimic it by maintaining a high overall fitness level and then listening to your body; if you start to tire, pull back immediately. Your body will stop hurting and start recovering, which is essentially what happens with second wind.

Or you could simply pop a pill. An emerging vogue among elite athletes is the use of so-called lactic acid buffers, such as Phos Fuel ($20 for a summer's worth; 516-467-3140) and Creatabolin C10 ($52 for a month's supply; 910-282-8052). The pills contain sodium phosphate and creatin respectively, both of which have been known to buffer lactic acid buildup, promote recovery, and thus allow better performance. "Our swimmers are able to go faster and longer,'' says assistant coach Ross Gerry, whose Stanford women's team has been using Phos Fuel since December. Be aware that for many people the results are subtle. Premier athletes might improve by a few hundredths of a second, but the rest of us might do well by sticking with our wind sprints.

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