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Need to Know: Lactate Tests

A lactate test, also known as lactate profiling or lactate threshold profiling, is deemed to be the most consistent physiological assessment for predicting endurance performance. Here's what you need to know.

A man taking a lactate test on a treadmill

Who Should Take a Lactate Test?

All levels of athlete will benefit from a lactate test, from everyday athletes to professional athletes & Olympians. Whilst we specialise in running, Onetrack can apply lactate threshold profiling to all sports: whether you're a triathlete, cyclist, footballer, swimmer & more.

1. Specific goals: anyone training for an event can use the lactate test to formulate a training programme to improve.

2. Training efficiency: everyday athletes looking to optimise their ongoing training strategy with more efficient and effective workouts.

3. Tracking progress: those looking to more accurately benchmark their current state of performance and track progress.

Why is Lactate Important?

We used to think that lactic acid was the burning sensation you feel when exercising at high intensity, but we now know that this is not the case. In fact, lactic acid may not actually be measurable in humans as it very quickly splits into hydrogen ions and lactate. Lactate is produced by using glucose to create energy in the absence of oxygen. This is called anaerobic. Glycolysis is one of our main energy pathways for hard intensity exercise and can sustain exercise for around two-three minutes. What we now know is that lactic is actually a fuel source for some tissue. Aerobic muscle tissue (slow twitch, muscle fibres), the heart, the brain and many other systems within the body can reverse lactate back to glucose again and use it as a fuel, so it’s more useful than detrimental.

As runners, we should be conscious of the intensity that we are running at as this ultimately is linked to the fuel sources that we are using to maintain those intensities. If you are in the marathon and lactate levels are rising, this means that you are likely to run out of glucose quicker than if you were to slow down and run at an easier speed. When producing high levels of lactate, it generally means we are using high levels of our muscle glycogen, which may be good for promoting adaptation to exercise, but does take some time to replenish. Therefore, recovery time between sessions is important to consider.

What's in the Lactate Test Report?

The example lactate test report below outlines lactate threshold and lactate turn point. Your lactate threshold is the intensity in which lactate level starts rising above resting levels. This is the first rise that symbolises the progressive switch of what is the dominant fuel source. After you go past the first rise (a.k.a. your lactate threshold), if speed keeps increasing you head towards the lactate turning point. This symbolises the body's almost exclusive reliance on glucose as a fuel source. The aerobic system cannot keep up with the speed in which you are running and the deficit is being made up by glucose. Speeds below the lactate turn point most of the time can be stabilised – otherwise known as steady state.

Say, for example, a lactate turn point is at 15 km/h, technically 13 km/h could elicit a lactate reading of 2.5 mmol if you measure this five minutes later, it will still be 2.5 mmol and so on to the next five minutes. However, speed up to 16 km/h may elicit a lactate reading of 5 mmol. Measure that five minutes later, as it could be at 6 or 7mmol If you could hold it another five minutes more, then you may see 9or 10mmol meaning that there is no steady state to be achieved here.

A lactate test example report

How Can I Improve My Lactate Test Results?

This is highly individual and would be guided by a coach. But generally speaking, there are three ways to improve your lactate threshold:

1) Lots of Easy Intensity Work

This can make your body very efficient at using fats as a fuel source, which is the main fuel of the aerobic system.

2) Interval Training

This puts a lot of lactate into the bloodstream and so gives the body the opportunity to become better at dealing with it. There is a myth that high intensity work does not use the aerobic system. This is false and can be a very beneficial stressor for developing aerobic pathways.

3) A Mixture of the Above

This is probably the most used message and probably the most sustainable. Following a pyramidal approach to training where the main bulk of your volume is easy, a little bit of work is in the middle and a small amount of work is hard, this allows for developing the full spectrum of all energy systems, muscle, fibre types, psychology, neurology but harder to design a plan allows for recovery and progression.

Whichever strategy you use, on re-testing we should see the curve of select a profile move to the right. This means that the shape of the curve might not change, but the speed at which the different thresholds happen increase. For example, lactate starts to rise above resting levels at around 11 km/h in test one. After three months of training, you retest and find that the first rise happens at 12 km/h. This means that the aerobic system was able to provide the energy needed to work at a higher, harder pace.

A Lactate Test costs £115 & lasts for approx. 1 hour. Book a Lactate Test here.

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