Lactate Benefits: Boosting Exercise & Cognitive Performance

Benefits of Lactate for Exercise and Cognitive Performance

Dr. Galpin explained that lactate is a potent fuel source that can benefit not only physical performance but also mental acuity.

This is why research has shown that engaging in exercise before taking an exam can lead to a noticeable increase in test scores. The elevation in lactate levels during exercise is thought to be a key factor in this cognitive boost.

When asked about the optimal intensity of exercise for cognitive benefits, Dr. Galpin noted that while any form of exercise is generally good, reaching a reasonably high heart rate is likely to yield the most significant results. He also mentioned that there are both acute and chronic adaptations to consider.

People who exercise regularly tend to have better memory retention and perform better on exams, but engaging in exercise immediately before an exam can also provide a short-term cognitive advantage.

Andrew Huberman referenced the work of Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a previous guest on his podcast and a renowned psychology professor and neuroscientist at New York University.

Dr. Suzuki is a strong advocate for daily morning exercise as a means to enhance learning and memory, and her research provides compelling evidence to support this practice.

Lactate: The Misunderstood Energy Production Buffer

Lactate, often associated with the burning sensation during intense exercise, has been long misunderstood as a limiting factor in athletic performance. However, as Dr. Andy Galpin explains, lactate is actually a tremendously effective and preferred fuel source for the body.

The misconception about lactate originated from early studies on hunted stags in Europe. Researchers observed that lactate concentrations were significantly higher in animals that had been chased and run down compared to those harvested in a rested state.

This led to the assumption that lactate was the cause of fatigue.

While it is true that lactate levels increase as fatigue increases, it is not the core driver of fatigue. Instead, lactate plays a crucial role in buffering the negative consequences of ATP hydrolysis and other metabolic processes.

It is important to note that there is no need to worry about reducing or clearing lactate in the muscle after exercise, as it is not detrimental.

Lactate is a versatile fuel source that can be utilized by neighboring exercise muscle fibers, other muscles, or even sent to the liver for gluconeogenesis to replenish liver glycogen.

It can also be put back into circulation and reintegrated into the muscle, where it can be converted back into glucose or glycogen once enough oxygen is available.

The real challenge in managing waste during exercise is dealing with the extra carbon, inorganic phosphate, and other byproducts that accumulate as a result of intense muscular activity. While high levels of lactate may coincide with the onset of fatigue, it is not the primary cause of the discomfort experienced during high-intensity exercise.

Role of Mitochondria, Oxygen Availability, and Lactate

At the very beginning of muscle contraction, the first energy source is phosphocreatine, which powers maximal exertion for up to 20 seconds. This energy is stored in the cytoplasm of the muscle fiber, making it readily available for immediate use.

As exercise duration extends beyond 15 seconds and up to a couple of minutes, the body transitions to carbohydrate metabolism, specifically anaerobic glycolysis.

Glycolysis involves breaking down glucose, a six-carbon molecule, into two three-carbon chains called pyruvate. While this process yields a small amount of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the primary energy currency for muscle contraction, it comes with a significant downside: the production of waste products.

To further utilize the pyruvate molecules for energy production, they must be transported to the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell.

Here, the pyruvate undergoes aerobic metabolism, a process that requires oxygen. However, if there is insufficient oxygen availability or the mitochondria are unable to keep up with the demand, a buildup of pyruvate occurs.

In such situations, the body employs a clever strategy to manage the accumulating waste products.

The excess hydrogen ions, which contribute to increased acidity in the muscle, are stored on the pyruvate molecules, forming lactate.

Contrary to popular belief, lactate itself is not the cause of fatigue but rather an acid buffer that helps prevent further acidification.

Interestingly, lactate can be shuttled to various parts of the body, such as neighboring muscle fibers, the liver, or the heart. In these locations, the lactate can be converted back to pyruvate by combining with oxygen, effectively recycling the molecule for energy production.

Additionally, through a process called gluconeogenesis, two pyruvate molecules can be combined to form glucose, which can be stored in the liver for future use.

As exercise duration increases, reaching the realm of endurance activities lasting 20 minutes or more, the body’s reliance on fat as a fuel source becomes more prominent. However, the intricate details of this transition and the interplay between ingested and stored nutrients were not fully explored in the podcast excerpt.

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