Lactate Threshold Testing

ramzy ross lactate testing

Dubai, UAE – Dr Ramzy Ross, Head of High Performance & Health Sciences at UPANDRUNNING explains why endurance athletes (from runners, cyclists, obstacle course competitors and more) would hugely benefit from accurately measuring, and using, physiological data to better structure training approaches and increase chances of achieving goals.

Why Blood Lactate Profiling?

Blood lactate is a marker used by budding, and more established, athletes and coaches to learn about key work rates at which an athlete can train for better training adaptions or to determine competition race strategy to help minimise risk of ‘hitting the wall’… prematurely. Essentially, particularly in relation to racing, its a strategic game between managing your blood lactate level and your work rate against the time you are looking to achieve. So, as examples, for a runner, it’s about managing running pace, and for cyclists, it’s all about power output (bearing in mind cadence of course), and using in-training/in-race bio-feedback (e.g. heart rate) to you guide you from start to finish.

How do we measure lactate levels?

Initial blood lactate profiling/threshold tests typically involve a sport-specific, incremental-based exercise test (i.e. intensity starts of easy and get progressively harder) where a series of very small blood samples are collected (typically from a fingertip or earlobe) and analysed for blood lactate concentrations. Throughout the whole test, typically anything from 12-30 minutes, we carefully assess blood lactate values against a range of cardio-respiratory and metabolic markers and, of course, work-rate (i.e. power output or running speed).

lactate testing

Finding someone’s ‘threshold’ (a subject often talked about among endurance fans) is pretty straightforward. However, it is also important to expand beyond this…for the best performance gains.  Looking at pace/wattage relationship with specific concentrations of blood lactate, heart rate, exercise duration and VO2max equivalence is often where the biggest insights can be seen and subsequent advice given – don’t worry that’s our job to figure out! So, we essentially take all this information, whilst also discussing other key factors that may be having an impact on your current performance levels (such as body weight, potential medical considerations, existing training approach etc.) and we aim to give you tangible, easy to follow recommendations whilst also taking you through 2 one-to-one coaching sessions with our leading high-performance expert…just to make sure you are doing certain things correctly! Important to also note that these tests can be done on your own bike (if you have one…don’t worry if not) and/or on our high-performance treadmill.

Remember, it’s important to have the correct test protocol carried out, data correctly analyzed and interpreted by an experienced expert who can then customise recommendations based on your goals. It’s also important to have your LT tested multiple times, over a training cycle, in order to measure progress and adapt training recommendations accordingly – check out the graph below as an illustration of how some of the data on our reports are shown over time:

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How do different levels of athletes compare?

If we take a look at the graph below – you can see the differences in blood lactate responses between different levels of runner:

In the above example – we are looking at running pace against a fixed blood lactate concentration of 4 mmol/l. As you can see – the recreational triathlete/out of shape runner is able to sustain a pace between 3-3.5 m/s where lactates then drastically increase up beyond the 4 mmol/l mark. However, towards the other end of the graph, you can see that a sub 2:20 marathoner can sustain a pace of 5.5 m/s and with World, Champion Marathoners hitting a whopping 6 m/s pace at this equivalent blood lactate concentration.

Factors Affecting LT

Other key performance markers have a role to play – it’s not necessarily just all about blood lactate! The diagram below shows a higher level description (there is more to it…get in touch to learn more) of the key markers involved in determining your performance level and how they relate to one another:

So, VO2max essentially refers to your engine capacity (i.e. using a car analogy – do you have a 1-litre engine or a 6-litre engine) whilst the economy refers to how ‘efficient’ you essentially are. So, you may have a large engine (a positive finding) but with very poor efficiency (a negative finding) and so the latter would be a factor to be worked on. The key is essentially to have a large engine, with the best possible economy, which contributes to a high lactate threshold capacity which ultimately puts you in a position of having the capability to perform better (i.e. sustain a higher wattage or pace).

Of course, there is a range of other factors to consider too and these include:

  • Underlying medical considerations
  • Body weight/composition
  • Hydration status/management
  • Sleep and rest in-between workouts
  • Quality of nutrition
  • Hormonal imbalances/deficiencies
  • Personal stress levels
  • Environmental factors including temperature
  • Smoking & alcohol consumption

If you have any questions regarding the above points – we are here to help! Dr Ramzy can be reached at RamzyR@upandrunningdubai.com

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