It is well documented that your lactate threshold (also known as LT2, MLSS, anaerobic lactate threshold or OBLA) is a very important performance metric.
Does that mean if a triathlete, cyclist or runner reached his/her highest lactate threshold that he/she is in top shape?
No, although a higher lactate threshold is desirable and very useful for better performances, being in top shape is more complex and would require amongst other factors also a high level of mental power, enhanced fat oxidation, improved power to weight ratio (body weight), and freshness.
I’m also interested in two more metrics which are
a) the maximum oxygen uptake (aerobic capacity aka V02max) and b) fractional utilisation (FU) of V02max, in other words how much of V02max can be utilised.
A blood lactate step test is very useful in that it helps to reveal many of the above metrics including LT2. We link LT2 power with V02max power and calculate your fractional utilisation of V02max. which is in other words, the percentage of the VO2max that can be utilised before the lactate threshold is crossed.
The fractional V02max can help us to predict your race performance because it is at an intensity level that doesn’t create any fatiguing by-products (such as hydrogen ions, water, heat, C02) and therefore can be sustained over a very long time.
Achieving a higher fractional V02max will require threshold development training (see below) and also training methods that concern V02max and your anaerobic development (glycolitic power).
Common training methods that raise lactate threshold:
- Lactate production workouts
- Lactate clearance workouts
VLamax stands for your maximal ability to produce lactate which is the byproduct of your anaerobic energy system.
A high VLamax means a higher anaerobic development at a given pace or power output which is a desired performance marker for a sprinter who depends on fast energy supply (glycogen) and high power outputs generated from a large amount of fast twitch fibres. Endurance athletes want the exact opposite most of the time apart from some exceptions (hilly courses, race dynamics, sprint to the finish etc).
And a low VLamax, on the other hand, is associated with a strong aerobic development, more fat and less carbohydrate use, therefore less lactate production at a given running pace or power output, which is desired in endurance sports (ultra running, long distance triathlon, GC TdF riders).
Incidentally, a higher VLamax means that your metabolism depends more on glucose and that you burn more of this fuel and use less fat.
Endurance athletes need to be fuel efficient and therefore highly fat adapted, let alone developed muscularly to maintain the highest possible event specific power output (fractional %V02max) for as long as possible.
A larger aerobic energy support system delivers high amounts of sustained energy (ATPs) from oxidised fat, greater oxygen supply/uptake to and from the muscles (oxidative capacity of the muscles) and a weaker anaerobic energy system, therefore a lack of metabolical byproducts (hydrogen ions, lactate).
For example, a long distance runner wants a lower anaerobic capacity because having too high of a level would mean you would consume too much glycogen and thus run out of fuel in the end of the marathon. Same can be said for all athletes who participate in long distance endurance event.
With all that being said, in some cases, your success in racing could depend on your sprinting qualities, your ability to generate high power-outputs quickly and repeatedly, hence VLamax (anaerobic development) can’t be trained too low.
You should then be well set to identify the areas you need to work on in your own training.
Maximise aerobic capacity and then reduce anaerobic development (VLamax) to just the right level, tailoring it specifically to meet the demands of your main event:
VLamax range is 0.2-1.0 mmol/L/sec
- 0.2-0.5 –>Endurance
For example, two athletes with the same Lactate Threshold/FTP/V02max but different VLamax race each other, the athlete with the higher VLamax will be oxidising more carbs, producing more lactate than the other athlete.
Who is going to be glycogen depleted first?
Glycogen depletion, as we know, is a performance limiter in long endurance racing (marathon..).
A powerful anaerobic development (VLamax) is important to a sprinter’s success whereas not so very much in case of a marathon runner or long distance triathlete who requires a powerful aerobic energy system.
What are the physiological factors that make you a successful pro cyclist in a Grant Tour like the Tour de France, or competing in Ironman’s or 70.3’s as pro triathlete or running a fast marathons?
The optimal performance profile depend on race specifics (terrain, distance/length (2,4,6 or 8hrs), of course. Everyone will benefit from a large aerobic capacity aka V02max, superior endurance & muscular strength endurance, power (force development), exercise economy, high fat oxidation, and high lactate thresholds (LT1/2).
Finally, all of this highlights the importance of knowing your athletes physiological strengths and limiters in order to build an individualised training program. Giving a group of athletes the same program (cookie cutter coaching style) just doesn’t work because what works for one might not deliver the same results for the other ones.