About Lactate and Lactate Testing
Lactate is an anion. That is, it is a negatively charged ion. Lactate, consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (C3H503) is a harmless organic molecule commonly found in cells in the body. Lactate can be, and indeed is, used as an energy source in the body through a process called gluconeogenesis, whereby the liver converts lactate to glucose.
Lactic acid (C3H603) on the other hand, though also an organic molecule, is rarely found in the body. In simple terms, lactic acid is created in the body when actively working skeletal muscles require more oxygen than is being delivery by the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, resulting in anaerobic (without oxygen) rather than aerobic (with oxygen) respiration. More specifically, anaerobic glycolysis, rather than aerobic glycolysis, is being utilized for the conversion of glucose into ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate, which is ultimately what the muscles use for contraction). The insufficient supply of oxygen to the actively working muscles creates a build-up of H+.
Lactic acid is rarely found in the body because it breaks down almost as soon as it is created. It is broken down into lactate and a hydrogen ion (H+). It is really the H+ that creates problems for athletes, and the H+ ions create an acidic environment within the cells. More specifically, the H+ interferes with the muscles' ability to contract, thereby inhibiting performance.
Lactate testing protocols reveal individual physiological functional capacity, that is, the individual’s ability to adapt to training loads, and thus can be used to create a training roadmap to achieve peak performance.
The maximal lactate steady state (MaxLass, or MLSS) is the effort level that an athlete can perform at for an extended period of time without having to slow down. The lactate level remains constant at that given effort level. As the effort level increases it will reach a point that exceeds the body's ability to clear the lactate, and more specifically the hydrogen ions. This level is called the lactate threshold, the anaerobic threshold, or the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA).
There is no convenient or portable means of measuring the build-up of H+ in the muscles. But, the accumulation of lactate in the blood can be conveniently, painlessly, and quickly measured.
Coach M, at Running Is Good, uses the Lactate Scout blood analyzer to measure blood lactate levels within 10 seconds. Using a methodical, structured testing protocol, the maximal lactate steady state can be determined. Sets of laps are run on the track at prescribed paces. Each set is 5 laps, or 2000m. The base (at rest) blood lactate level is checked, and the blood lactate level is checked following each set. Sets are run until the blood lactate level is no longer in a steady state. Incidentally, the heart rate is also checked each time the blood lactate level is checked. From this data, the velocity over time is calculated which results in appropriate training paces.