The breakdown of glucose or glycogen produces lactate and hydrogen ions – for each lactate molecule, one hydrogen ion is formed. The presence of hydrogen ions, not lactate, makes the muscle acidic that will eventually halt muscle function. As hydrogen ion concentrations increase the blood and muscle become acidic. This acidic environment will slow down enzyme activity and ultimately the breakdown of glucose itself. Acidic muscles will aggravate associated nerve endings causing pain and increase irritation of the central nervous system. The athlete may become disorientated and feel nauseous.
By buffering acidity in the blood, bicarbonate draws more of the acid produced within the muscle cells out into the blood and thus reduce the level of acidity within the muscle cells themselves.
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