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Lactate testing is a method to estimate your lactate threshold (the onset of increased lactate in the blood). Lactate is a byproduct of glucose metabolism. We constantly produce lactate, even at rest. At sub-threshold levels, we are able to metabolize or ‘clear’ lactate as it is produced, thus keeping the blood lactate levels at a steady, sub-threshold level. As we increase intensity, we produce more lactate. Once we begin to produce lactate at a rate faster than we can clear it, blood lactate levels begin to rise. A common misconception is that lactate causes the burn we experience as we surpass our threshold, but lactate itself is not harmful and is actually a good energy source for the heart and muscle! Blood lactate is a measure of our ability to metabolize glucose and provides a good way of determining when we rely on predominately anaerobic metabolism. Lactate threshold occurs anywhere from 70% up to almost 90% of your VO2max. Typically, the more trained the athlete, the lactate threshold will occur at a higher percentage of the VO2max. It is not necessary to know your VO2max for the lactate test to be effective and helpful
This test is performed on either the treadmill (for running) or on a rear-wheel bicycle ergometer (for biking). The test begins at a relatively low intensity. The intensity is increased in 4-minute stages. Near the end of each 4-minute stage, data is collected: pace/speed, power (if on the bike), heart rate, perceived exertion, and blood lactate. Blood lactate is collected via needle prick on the tip of your finger. A drop of blood is placed on the lactate analyzer to provide a measure of blood lactate. You continue through 4-minute stages until appropriate blood lactate numbers are reached. It is not necessary to go to maximum effort during this test. The end result is a blood lactate profile over various intensities.
The value of this test is in the interpretation and implementation of the data. A skilled physiologist can analyze the data and determine paces/speeds/intensities that elicit an important physiological change. Data from this lactate test is used to prescribe training intensities (or training zones). The benefit of knowing these training zones is that it allows you, the athlete, to train at specific intensities to optimize your training potential. In other words, you will know the correct intensity to train to have the best chance of getting the desired outcome.
So, the beauty of the lactate test is that you will understand your current fitness levels and have the information to optimize your training.