May Newsletter

Lactate Threshold Testing – The Whole Story

By Julie Young
        While field tests, like the functional threshold power (FTP) 20 min test or a similar type time trial for runners provides a number that science says closely correlates to the lactate threshold, these tests do not tell us the whole story. Improving power and pace are the outcomes of improving the supporting metabolic systems. But field tests do not allow us to measure and monitor these metabolic factors. And while some cycling-specific training systems promise a consistent 2% gain in FTP, this simply is not possible. However, while the power numbers, will not infinitely improve and ultimately have a ceiling, with a well-structured training plan, there is continual improvement sustaining threshold power, more efficiently and with less stress on the systems. A lactate test and resulting curve allow us to understand these improvements, a field test does not.
Lactate testing provides a wealth of information to more effectively and efficiently guide the athlete to reach their goals
          Sidebar —- there is no doubt that the advent of the power meter has revolutionized training, it is objective and absolute. But it seems power has become a competition in and of itself, rather than a tool to improve performance. Power jargon and terms like TSS have become trendy talk on the group rides. But chasing numbers often overshadows the true purpose of training. The use of power ensures we are achieving the intended objectives of the specific training zones. However, I feel a training session is most effective when we mentally connect the dots as to “why” we are doing a certain workout. For example, during an interval session, I try to visualize a key section of an upcoming race, and glance periodically at the power numbers to ensure I am in the zone. But my primary focus is on pedaling with efficiency and rhythm under the higher intensity, and mentally locking on to a mantra to power and pedal through the pain. Days when I do intervals, without intention and am simply chasing power numbers and ticking off the time, are far less effective.
Taking a sample of blood with the lactate meter
         With this loss of perspective on the use of power, power numbers in and of themselves have become the competition. Many riders are highly motivated by abbreviated FTP tests, which yield attractive high FTP values, but typically over-estimate the FTP. In simple terms, threshold is the highest intensity that an individual can hold for one hour. It is the point where lactate production equals lactate clearance (as a result of clearance, buffering and/or metabolizing for energy). However, it is a big ask to have a recreational or master athlete perform a one-hour time trial to determine threshold. When we use these abbreviated protocols, which often result in an over-estimated FTP and consequently over-estimated training zones, the athlete either fails to achieve the prescribed power values of the workouts, and/or is missing essential “blocks” in his/her base of fitness. This athlete is essentially building toward peak performance on a weak foundation, having missed the ability to develop key physiologic and metabolic systems by training with accurate zones.
The lactate curve provides two inflection points – the aerobic threshold and lactate threshold
            Lactate testing is equally valuable and insightful for runners as cyclists. In addition to pinpointing the lactate threshold, or where we start transitioning from an aerobic to an anaerobic state, the lactate curve also indicates the top of the pure aerobic zone. With field tests, we use generalized percentages to develop the training zones based on the determined threshold number. But everyone is unique and these percentages may not apply. For example, I recently tested an athlete at the Kaiser Sports Medicine Endurance Lab, who almost exclusively prescribes to high intensity interval training (HIIT), with little to no endurance training. And her lactate curve confirmed this by exhibiting an abbreviated aerobic zone, before the lactate line started to climb. But, she had a well-developed high end fitness. She was building on an inverted pyramid, in other words missing essential elements in her fitness produced by endurance training, i.e. improved mitochondrial density, capillarization and fat oxidation, and reduced lactate production. In her case the general percentages would not apply, and would have over-estimated the extent of her endurance zone.

        The lactate curve also helps us understand if the athlete is more aerobically- or anaerobically-inclined. A more aerobically-inclined athlete, who is endowed with more slow twitch muscle fibers, will produce less lactate, and in fact this muscle fiber type will efficiently utilize and combust the lactate for energy. The more anaerobically-inclined athlete with a high percentage of quick twitch muscle fibers will produce greater lactate and will not efficiently reprocess and utilize lactate as energy. As such, we can use the levels of lactate production to better understand an athlete’s natural strengths. With this understanding, we can help guide the athlete to capitalize on his/her natural strengths and pursue disciplines that best play to their genetic gifts.
For runners the test protocol is developed based on 

the individual runner’s 10 k pace
       Measuring lactate production can also, in the presence of other psychological and performance criteria, help confirm over-training. In an “over-trained” state, muscles have a reduced capacity to produce lactate. In my experience, rest is the hardest “sell” to endurance athletes. Many endurance athletes are hard chargers, with a more-is-better mentality and high threshold for training loads and pain. Sometimes, more objective evidence is the only way to convince them a change in course is absolutely required.
 A lactate test helps us fine-tune and further 

individualize an athlete’s training program

While field tests can provide the next best thing, in terms of developing more accurate training zones, they simply do not allow us to understand the whole picture. A lactate curve is rich with information – it equips the athlete with precise individualized data to identify weak links in conditioning; helps the athlete understand his/her natural strengths; determines accurate training zones; and ultimately allows us to further refine and individualize training to help the athlete more efficiently and effectively reach his/her goal.

See you “out there…”


Project Hero Training Camp with Julie Young
        The first weekend of May, Project HERO City of Reno is headed over the hill and participating in the Sacramento Honor Ride followed by a full day clinic with Dai Endurance. Founded in 2008, Project Hero is a groundbreaking national non-profit organization dedicated to helping Veterans and First Responders affected by PTSD, TBI and injury achieve rehabilitation, recovery, and resilience in their daily lives and increasing awareness to combat the national mental health emergency posed by PTSD and TBI. After a long, long winter this group of disabled Veterans are eager to work with coach Julie Young to officially kick off their cycling season and build the necessary foundation to avoid injury, fulfill cycling goals, and use this amazing sport for their personal recovery. Project HERO City of Reno is honored to have Dai Endurance as a program sponsor and are thankful for the services they provide to our program.
May’s Product of the the Month Specialized Body Geometry Insoles
       Specialized Body Geometry Fit insoles are the easy, affordable way to take your bike fit and comfort to the next level.  At $30 for the pair, these insoles are a quick and simple way to drastically improve your overall comfort and fit on your road, mountain, gravel or cross bike.  Specialized insoles come in two main support levels; the blue with a minimum to moderate amount of support and the greens which provide a high, more aggressive level of support.  The insole come in sizes to match your shoe size and have the patent 1.5 mm varrus wedge built right into the foot bed.  We have Specialized BG Fit Insoles in stock, so come and try them out, and take your comfort and support to the next level.
May’s Athlete of the Month
Erin Abrahams! 
 “I realize my motivation is more than just about one race – it’s about becoming the best athlete I can be – which I see as a very long term evolution that I hope will carry me to some amazing places throughout my athletic career.”
       Dai Endurance Athlete Erin Abrahams spends her days caring for all the cats and dogs of Boston as a Veterinarian. Erin is working towards strengthening her core, truck, and hip stability off the bike to perform better on the bike. She recently realized just how important capitalizing on these areas are for endurance. When asked about her motivation on training she replied, “My main goal this year is the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race, which was the driving force for seeking one-on-one coaching. However, since beginning the training process I realize my motivation is more than just about one race – it’s about becoming the best athlete I can be – which I see as a very long term evolution that I hope will carry me to some amazing places throughout my athletic career.”

From 9:00am to 10:00am
Dai Endurance
1401 21st St
Sacramento, CA 95811