By CrossFit Intrepid
Last week, the CrossFit Journal posted a video clip of CrossFit Endurance coach Brian MacKenzie lecturing on the burning sensation felt by athletes during workouts that tends to slow them down. Many of us equate this pain to the build up of lactic acid (or lactate), but recent research has shown that lactate actually slows the acidosis process (the build up of acid in our cells) and is actually part of a previously undiscovered metabolic pathway that helps fuel our anaerobic activity. According to Coach MacKenzie, the tingling or burning sensation we feel during exercise is actually caused by the accumulation of potassium in the tissue and that lactate actually helps alleviate that soreness. Sodium ions are pumped out of cells while potassium is pumped in via the sodium-potassium pump. The diagram below provides a summary of the process:
Courtesy of Professor Serianni of University of Notre Dame
What’s interesting is that the sodium-potassium pump becomes more and more efficient as more force is applied…just another benefit of including strength training into our programming. This also helps explain why many CrossFit Endurance athletes are seeing tremendous results by using CrossFit and shorter, more intense running/swimming/biking/rowing sessions vice traditional training programs.
You may be wondering then what causes soreness over the few days that follow intense workout sessions. It’s not potassium which only causes that sensation during a workout, but rather the inflammation resulting from the break down of our tissue (just another reason to focus on strength training and minimizing inflammation via the Paleo diet and fish oil supplementation…I’m just saying).