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When is blood lactate testing useful?

When is blood lactate testing useful?

Blood Lactate tests can help determine training intensity and improve performance. In the past, it was usually carried out only in a specialist lab or University typesetting. Now it’s possible to perform these types of tests without the need of expensive equipment or lab.

For years athletes and coaches have known the benefits of testing lactate levels but even for more recreational type athletes a lot like myself, this kind of self-testing is easy to do and can help you improve no matter what your goal.

Whether this is to run faster, cycle further or get fitter for health reasons, lactate testing can help. Finding lactate levels and threshold or the point it builds faster than the body can shift it is now easy. Modern devices take a pinprick of blood and enable you to plot them against speed, power and even heart rate. Doing this over time can help you get faster and fitter for sport or health in general.

Alternatives use maximum heart rate where formulas based on age are used. These include the likes of 220- (Your Age) widely thought to have been devised in 1970 by Dr William Haskell and Dr Samuel Fox. However, this does not take into account the level of fitness an individual has.

blood lactate testing

A good friend of mine, Melvin Swallow at 64 years young is one of the fittest people I know. He is the current Marathon Kayak World Champion. Stacking him up against a regular 64 year old wouldn’t result in the same levels of fitness. If you don’t exercise often then you can’t expect to handle the same training as someone the same age who does.

Lactate testing avoids this by crafting results based on your level of fitness instead of putting you in a broad and generalised category such as the heart rate formulas.

For untrained individuals lactate thresholds happens at about 50-60% of max heart rate, whereas a trained person’s lactate threshold can be about 70-85% of the maximum heart rate.

As you can see, heart rate formulas fail to take levels of training into account. So what’s the answer? Lactate testing is the way forward!

The Lactate Threshold Test!

Muscles always produce lactate, even at rest but the resting levels are usually very low, approximately 0.8-1.5 mmol/L.

Lactate threshold is where the levels stop increasing at a steady state and starts increasing faster than the body can manage. You’ll have felt this when exercising, as well as the point just before where it feels comfortable.

The average threshold is at about 4.0 mmol/L and happens at different levels of intensity by individuals. The onset of exhaustion and fatigue happens fast after crossing the threshold but efforts below this can achieved for hours by top athletes such as marathon runners.

For anyone wanting to improve at endurance type event, by training at or below the lactate threshold, you can increase the length of time you can maintain speed in endurance events.

The procedure to find lactate levels is quick and easy to do by anyone with the right equipment.

Here’s how…

(we recommend using swabs and sterile gloves in the procedure of taking bloods)

Follow a protocol that either increases speed or incline on a treadmill or wattage on a bike at regular intervals record lactate levels at each point as follows:

  • Use a sterile lancet to break the skin and allow blood to flow
  • Apply a micro sample of blood to the test strip
  • Insert the sample strip into the analyser such as the Roche Accutrend
  • The results are available in 60 seconds and displayed in mmol/L which means millimoles per litre

Using tests to improve performance

It’s possible to increase your power, even speed at the lactate threshold. These are important factors when improving performance.

If you’re an endurance athlete aiming to get faster or someone looking to get fit, lactate tests can help. Those new to exercise will see larger changes in lactate levels than those who train often. So contrary to popular belief, lactate testing is useful for beginners too.

Aerobic capacity is your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance fitness. Vo2 max tests tell us the maximum rate of oxygen consumption, this usually happens during incremental exercise tests on treadmills and bikes. The test uses a mask to sample breath, this gives a window of fitness and ability to utilise oxygen.

Lactate gives information on muscular endurance and your muscles ability to control it – the substance that can limit muscular work.

Lactate tests by themselves are useful, but using them with Vo2 max tests can give a comprehensive view of aerobic conditioning. That said, knowing your lactate threshold is still a useful number to know. You’ll spend less time training at incorrect levels to achieve your goals.