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Lactate Threshold Testing...
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Tuesday 14th April 2015


Tags  Mule Bar  |  MuleBar  |  Pete Aylward  |  Sigma Sport  |  Zer06


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We recently sent Pete Aylward 'On the road with Wiggle Honda', as he took a trip to Flanders to meet the Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling Team.

His latest adventure involved another ladies cycling team - MuleBar Girl - Sigma Sport - as Pete spent a day at MuleBar HQ (www.mulebar.com), to meet the team, but also undertake a Lactate Threshold Test himself, under the guidance of the team human performance specialists Zer06 (www.zer06.com).

This is how it went and what he learned...


Four is a Magic Number

In the increasingly saturated market of sports energy foods, MuleBar (www.mulebar.com) manage to more than hold its own by doing what its always done: offering no-nonsense products with a range of flavours to suit any palate. They don't overplay the science behind their products, preferring to focus on the natural, often organic and fairtrade, 'real food' ingredients they use. That's not to say there isn't science behind why their products work though, and it was a for a bit of MuleBar-fuelled scientific testing that Tri247 recently took a trip to MuleBar HQ.

Human performance specialists Zer06 (www.zer06.com) work with the MuleBar Girl - Sigma Sport Cycling Team to ensure they get the most from their training, helping them to understand how their bodies work, and enabling them to play to their strengths while avoiding or working to improve any perceived weaknesses. Zer06 had their Wattbike setup on site to put riders Maxine Filby (www.twitter.com/maxinefilby), Adel Tyler (www.twitter.com/AdelTB), and Natalie Creswick (www.twitter.com/NatCres) through their paces, which also provided a great opportunity to undertake a lactate threshold test myself.

Natalie Creswick and Maxine Filby

If you're of a certain age, you may still think in terms of 'lactic acid' being a bad thing, or that 'feeling the burn' is measure of a good workout. It's actually long-since understood that lactate (as it's more-correctly defined) can be performance enhancing. When managed, it helps to provide energy through glucose production and to burn carbs. Knowing your blood lactate levels therefore is a key factor in improving cycling performance and keeping that level in check, whether training or racing, is massively beneficial.

With the Wattbike setup for me, Adam from Zer06 took a first sample of blood from my finger - just a pin-prick, so no need to be squeamish - which he then analysed. Four is the magic number: Lactic Threshold is the point at which blood lactate levels rise sharply, and fatigue really kicks in. This threshold value is 4mmol/L. An initial reading was in the high 3s, which was a bit of a concern being so close to that threshold point but I needn't have worried. Once I'd pedalled for two minutes, at a low intensity and a cadence of 90rpm, it had dropped to 2.9.

blood lactate samples

Every two minutes the resistance on the Wattbike was increased. I was to keep my cadence close to 90rpm. The bike had a big screen set up in front of it which provided real-time feedback on this cadence, together with heart rate and power output. Power output was also displayed as a continually morphing blob. The closer to a circle this blob is, the more even that power is being being generated with each revolution of the pedals. I'd also known I was prone to 'mashing' rather than spinning nice even pedal strokes, and this blob proved this. Definitely something to work on.

After four minutes my lactate level was at 3.1, at six it was 3.0, dropped to 2.9 at eight minutes and then rose to 3.7 after ten. At 12 minutes, with my heart beating at 174bpm my level broke through the threshold level and reached 6.1. I'd blown. This wasn't time for things to end quite yet though, as analysing recovery was key to learning from the test too. With the resistance on the bike dropped, pedalling for another four minutes brought my level down to 3.7 and after eight it was 2.7 - a level well below where I'd started.

Maxine Filby and Adele Tyson-Bloor

So, what to learn from all this? Your Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS) is the point where your body is most effectively using the lactate it's producing: Lactate clearance is equal to lactate production. In riding terms this becomes the level of exertion you could sustain without blowing up. Of course in practice there'll be variation in pace and effort on your rides: There's the nasty climb you encounter, the Strava segment to 'own', the rider you have to beat to the next set of lights, etc. And this is where understanding how your body processes lactate really comes into its own.

From my test I learned that I can recover quickly from threshold levels at a heart rate of 146-149bpm, so when I do go flat out for a period I know I need to drop to that rate if I'm not to ruin myself for the rest of a ride. I learned that my body processes lactate better once warmed up. A 10 minute warm up at 120-125bpm and I'm good to go. 'Flushing' is vital. The initially high lactate level I had was likely the result of a morning ride with the MuleBar Girl - Sigma Sport riders. We'd powered our way up the hill to MuleBar HQ then abruptly stopped for lunch. Another period, Zer06 recommend 5-10% of total ride time or distance, riding at 120-125bpm would have brought my lactate level right down, leaving muscles to better repair and grow stronger, or be ready to go at it all over again.

Thanks to MuleBar for hosting us, Zer06 for the testing, and Cannondale for providing bikes for the day.


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