What is lactic acid fermentation and how does it affect your physical performance? Here’s what you need to know:
One of the most complex subjects in the body is the muscular system. The muscles not only help to support the body, but they provide motion and movement. They use a specific type of energy, known as ATP, in order to function. But did you know that they produce lactic acid when they burn energy?
Lactic acid fermentation is the biological process of turning glucose and the other six-carbon sugars into cellular energy. As the glucose, lactose, sucrose, and other six-carbon sugars are turned into energy, they also produce lactate. This only happens when the muscles are working hard and not getting oxygen, also known as anaerobic exercise. When you lift weights, sprint, or perform high intensity exercise, your body produces this lactic acid.
Did you know that lactic acid isn’t only found in your body? You’ll find that it’s used in a wide variety of foods as well:
Kimchi — Kimchi is a delicious Asian dish made from fermented, spiced cabbage. This dish uses Lactobacillus, a bacteria that is one of the many lactic acid forms. The bacteria promotes fermentation, making the cabbage dish possible.
Sauerkraut — You know that delicious cabbage you pile on top of your hot dog? Well, it’s made using lactic acid fermentation as well! Sauerkraut uses the Leuconostoc bacteria rather than Lactobacillus, but the results are the same in the end. The bacteria cause the cabbage to ferment, thanks to the high acidity brought about by organisms that ferment lactic acid specifically. Hydrocarbons and simple alcohols are produced, which leads to the formation of esters in the cabbage. These esters are what give sauerkraut their unique flavor.
READ MORE: 7 Health Benefits of Kombucha
Yogurt — What turns yogurt into milk? Simple: lactic acid fermentation! The milk is heated and the Lactobacillus and Streptococcus thermophilus bacteria introduced. The warm environment makes for the perfect breeding ground for the bacteria, which in turn affect the pH of the milk. The increase in lactic acid causes the milk to congeal, as well as increasing the acidity of the milk. The fact that yogurt is made using TWO separate strains of these bacteria is why it has such a unique flavor.
Note: In some probiotic yogurts, an additional strain of Lactobacillus bacteria is added. This new bacteria doesn’t affect the fermentation of the milk caused by the lactic acid, but when it is consumed, it helps to increase the presence of beneficial bacteria in your intestines.
Sour Beer — Did you know that lactic acid fermentation plays an important role in the production of sour beer? Berliner Weisses and Lambics are two specific types of beer that have a higher lactic acid content than the average brew. The lactic acid content lowers the pH, increasing the acidity and providing the sourness that gives the beer its name.
The truth is that lactic acid plays an important role in more than just your body. Not only does it give you that “burn” that comes when you finish a workout, but it’s also important for the production of some of your favorite foods. Understanding how it works is the key to being a well-educated, aware consumer who knows exactly what they are putting into their body.