Monday, May 15, 2006

'One of the Classic Mistakes in the History of Science'

For the last 100 years, science told us that lactic acid caused that burning sensation that you get when you're pushing yourself in an exercise routine, but as the New York Times reported today, it turns out science was wrong. Science may have figured out the whole earth-revolves-around-the-sun thing, but it's failed us when it comes to lactic acid and the way our muscles process energy.

It all started with Noble laureate Otto Meyerhof about 100 years ago. Using a bizarre experiment where he sliced a frog in half, then used electric shocks to make one of the parts move, he wrongly surmised that "lack of oxygen to muscles leads to lactic acid, leads to fatigue," read the Times piece.

For the next century, through dozens of Olympics, a couple of World Wars and man landing on the moon, this understanding of lactic acid in muscles guided the workouts of millions. From P.E. teachers telling students to squeeze lactic acid out of their sore muscles by stretching to Olympic coaches submitting their athletes to lactic threshold tests, it turns out they were all mislead.

According to the New York Times, "Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid."

"The understanding now," read the Times, "is that muscle cells convert glucose or glycogen to lactic acid. The lactic acid is taken up and used as a fuel by mitochondria, the energy factories in muscle cells."

According to Brooks, the whole misunderstanding : "It's one of the classic mistakes in the history of science."

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.