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Reasons to profile your lactate kinetics

Our Perspective on Human Performance

Reasons to profile your lactate kinetics

Reasons to profile your lactate kinetics

One day I believe we will have real-time lactate and glucose measurements, with feed back biometrics from biosensors and our power-meters, displayed to us through ‘Reality Glasses’ or something ridiculous like that. But until that day, the best way of understanding these biochemical processes during our simulated performance is through a good physiologist or sports scientist who appreciates the true value of physiological assessment for performance cycling. A few academic labs at universities across the UK offer this service and I have already checked out some of the competition to see how I differ. Many package physiological profiling as an elaborate series of tests, with VO2max still seen as the gold-standard (which by the way should not be conducted at the same time as profiling blood lactate, as these require two separate efforts on different occasions), including peak power assessments, body composition and hydrational status to justify a high price. Estimating lactate thresholds through ventilatory inflection points is a very inaccurate method compared to direct capillary blood sampling.

Not all of the information provided by these packages will help you get from A to B. Thats why I like to keep things simple, change one thing at a time as you should with your training or diet. I like to think I offer an excellent service; I am cycling specific with real-world experience, and continue to learn about performance cycling in the context of biochemistry and physiology. What might work for one person, may not for another…and I’m definitely trying to cut-the wheat-from-the-chaff instead of adding to the noise which plagues the health and fitness industry!

I just wanted to put together a few points for you, and not an epic post…..although I do feel another one coming on sometime soon.

While it  is known that the anaerobic production of lactate and use as a preferred aerobic fuel is beneficial, measuring its formation during intense exercise provides tremendous insight into training and racing for participating in all forms of endurance sport. I have found this running interval coaching site have put into concise words how lactate works and its relevance better than I can at the moment. Cycling, rowing, running and swimming are all known to rely on the optimal synergy between aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Importantly, it should be clarified that exercise intensity above the LT can only be maintained for a few minutes. Therefore, in almost any race or maximal steady state workout it is imperative to stay below LT. However, if the power/speed at the LT can be increased through training, then race times will invariably decrease. Lactate profiling allows objective measurement every 3/4 months to determine the effectiveness of an athletes training programme.

The following are the typical elements of a lactate profile in all endurance athletes:

  • Baseline- lower aerobic intensities should remain consistently flat until the first lactate turning point.
  • Turning points (LT) – reduce the ‘deadzone’ training stagnation step before the second turning point (MLSS).
  • Rate of accumulation – a faster rate of accumulation indicates LT is close to maximal aerobic power.
  • Peak lactate – the balance between anaerobic and aerobic energy systems dictates lactate levels at the highest work-rates.
  • Clearance – indicates ability to recover, degree of lactate tolerance and re-cycling to reconstitute the total energy system.

Each of these components of the lactate profile will be different for individuals focused on different types of performance cycling at various points in their training and preparation. Pushing your lactate threshold as close to your maximal aerobic capacity is regarded as the single most important determinant of achieving peak performance. Raising your lactate threshold power-to-weight is they key performance metric for being competitive at steady-state endurance sport.

The number of scientific studies on lactate thresholds has increased enormously up to the present day and the sub-maximal course of blood lactate during incremental exercise has probably become one of the most important means in the diagnosis of endurance performance in sports practice. Atkinson et al. Science and cycling; current knowledge and future directions for research. J Sports Sci 2003 Sep; 21 (9): 767-87.

LT profiling provides a multidimensional profile of conditioning. Because lactate is produced by the anaerobic system and used by the aerobic system, it is the only marker available for measuring both systems. The amount of energy an athlete can produce per unit of time depends on the development of both systems, which is why they have to be balanced. Essentially this means training the anaerobic system to a level that is appropriate for the athletes aerobic capacity. This balance will depend upon the event for which the athlete is competing and will also depend upon which part of the training cycle the athlete is in. The first part of the training cycle focuses on building as strong an aerobic system as possible. As the athlete gets close to their ‘event’, the anaerobic system will have to be ‘fine tuned’ for a peak performance.

LT profiling shows adaptations in each system: Over time, changes in blood lactate levels can tell an experienced exercise physiologist what physiological adaptation has taken place in each system. This can inform the coach or exercise practitioner which forms of training are working (or not working). Training times becomes more efficient as the athlete performs only workouts which actually work. Allows a platform for continuous improvement in performance and avoid training stagnation and the dreaded training plateau, by perpetually updating adaptations and ‘moving the goal posts’.

Those are the sciency reasons…

The reasons why I personally advocate physiological assessment and why I am now doing what I do, is because I believe we are all a unique experiment, a metamorphosis, and deserve to achieve physical excellence that our stressful lives try and prevent us from living. No two cyclists are the same. Helping someone get from A to B by explaining to them how, can work well for unknown journeys of short distance, but when that journey is slightly longer, most of us forget where we are, at some point taking a wrong turning. So we need to get back on track, with a map or even better, GPS.

Lactate works in a similar way, it draws a physiological map, occasionally reminding us where we are, and which turning we need to take. We all know the positive health benefits that cycling rewards us with, protective against cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, even some neurological disorders and may even help prevent some cancers. Investing in better fitness now will pay dividends in the future, plus cycling faster is just a lot more fun!  Having taken a few wrong turns myself, I know exactly how invaluable it is to have a helping hand at times.

Praying for more Spring sunshine!

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