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Lactate Threshold Breakdown for Runners

Understanding lactate threshold and how it impacts runners

Running can be as simple or as complex as you make it. Some runners are content with completing a few miles every other day. Other runners like to take a deep dive into their data and analytics. They want to understand their bodies and improve their performance. One frequently used term in the running community is “lactic acid.” But what exactly is that and how does it impact you? Ascension Seton Sports Performance’s Dr. Jakob Allen explains lactate threshold and how it impacts runners. To get tested, email Dr. Allen at Jakob.allen@ascension.org for more information and to schedule your appointment. Their goal is to help you become a better runner!

Lactate threshold explained

The burning, aching sensation that accompanies intense efforts is all too familiar to athletes. This feeling can also occur when runners begin to increase their mileage and running pace. Most athletes have probably heard the terms lactic acid or lactate threshold thrown around by coaches. What do these terms actually mean? Lactate was originally believed to only be produced when the body lacks oxygen. It’s now known you produce lactate even at rest. Far from the cause of fatigue, lactate is shuttled around the body to areas where it is needed as a fuel source such as the heart, muscles, brain, and liver. 

During high-intensity training, muscle contractions result in a build-up of metabolites and depletion of glycogen (the fuel inside muscles). This is when lactate is associated with fatigue. At rest and during low-intensity activity, lactate doesn’t build up in the muscles. It is shuttled to areas where it is needed faster than it is produced. Lactate threshold is the point at which the rate of production of lactate is greater than the rate of removal from the muscles. Athletes can only sustain exercise above this threshold for a limited amount of time before exhaustion. Pro tip: this is great information for boosting your mental toughness.

Why you should know about this

While lactate does not directly cause fatigue, it is still the best metric available for detecting when the body shifts away from mostly aerobic metabolism to rely more heavily on anaerobic metabolism. Anaerobic metabolism can only be sustained for a short period of time before fatigue occurs. Studies show that lactate threshold, or the point at which this transition occurs, is the best predictor of overall endurance performance abilities. If two athletes have the same VO2max, but one athlete can maintain a higher fraction of that VO2max without build up of metabolites (i.e. lactate, hydrogen ions), the athlete with the higher lactate threshold will always win. It’s an objective performance metric that gives invaluable information about your endurance abilities.

Dr. Allen recommends athletes measure their lactate threshold at the beginning of the training season to get a baseline. This can be used to establish training zones unique to their individual physiology, optimize performance, and avoid overtraining. Additionally, he recommends athletes come in for testing once every 3-4 months. This allows the team to monitor training progress and reestablish training zones. As the racing season approaches, the lactate threshold pace can be used to determine exact pacing strategies, no matter the distance. For example, marathoners usually set their race pace right around their lactate threshold. Measuring your lactate threshold gives you the ability to establish your race pace while knowing it’s truly what you’re capable of. Pro tip: learn how long it could take you to finish a marathon with this helpful pacing chart.

How the measurement is performed

Lactate threshold can be performed in a clinical setting or in the field depending on the athlete’s preference. Ascension Seton Sports Performance adheres to the most stringent COVID-19 policies. They are also happy to offer the service outdoors if athletes would prefer that. The test involves either running on a treadmill or outdoor track or cycling on a stationary ergometer. As you exercise at increasing intensities their team measures the changes in various physiological parameters. This includes changes in lactate as measured from a drop of blood from the finger or changes in expired gases collected from a mask over your mouth. 

About Dr. Jakob Allen

Dr. Allen received his Doctoral training from the nationally ranked University of Texas at Austin. He was an 8x All-American collegiate swimmer at Stanford, American Record holder, NCAA and Pac-10 Champion, and 2x Olympic Trials qualifier. Dr. Allen is now an avid cyclist and triathlete, frequently placing in the top-5 overall amateurs in Central Texas triathlons. He is driven to bring about the greatest potential of all athletes whether you are a weekend warrior or an Olympian.

Dr. Allen currently serves as the Sports Scientist for the Austin Bold FC team in addition to his work in the clinic. He believes that exercise remains one of the best ways to improve every physiological system in the body throughout the lifespan. Whether it’s helping prevent changes in mental acuity or improving muscle function, the benefits of exercise continue to be supported by scientific studies. Dr. Allen specializes in designing exercise training programs for improving muscle and cardiovascular health for aging wellness and masters athlete performance.

How Cycling Can Help You Improve Your Running Performance

Improve your running performance when you add cycling to your training

Are you a marathon runner looking to optimize your performance? Have you recently discovered marathons and want to learn more about training? Either way, maximizing your stamina, endurance, and physical fitness is crucial to improving your running performance.

Running is an activity that necessitates the use of leg muscles to a large extent. A complete training program is crucial if you want to improve your running performance. It’s important to exercise and strengthen all muscle groups. Fitness experts recommend that you cross-train. Cycling is a great way to cross-train. Riding your bike at least once a week can help you train smarter and improve your running performance as a marathoner.

Cross-training involves activities other than your usual sport. In the case of marathoners, it involves exercises other than running. You might run fewer miles, but cross-training helps engage more muscle groups, enhance endurance, and strengthen leg muscles.

Why cycling is beneficial

Many runners choose cycling for their cross-training and also follow this advice when increasing their mileage. Here are some benefits runners can take advantage of when they begin cycling:

Prevent overuse of leg muscles

Overuse injuries are very common in long-distance running. Integrating another activity can make all the difference between an overuse injury and making it to the finish line. Using the bike reduces impact on your body, especially your feet, while continuing to strengthen your leg muscles. Pro tip: if something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out! Learn how the Ascension Seton Sports Performance experts can get you back on track and headed to your goal.

Strengthen complementary muscles

While short distance runs or sprints can help build muscles, long-distance running is known to hinder muscle growth. The main muscle groups used in cycling are the upper leg muscles like your quadriceps and hamstrings. However, you also use your calf muscles, gastrocnemius, and soleus. Cycling also engages your core and back while giving your arms and shoulders a good workout. As a form of resistance workout, cycling builds and strengthens these different muscle groups.

Expand lung capacity

True, you’ll log fewer running miles by cycling. But you won’t sacrifice some of running’s benefits, like expanding your lung capacity. Simply put, the more fresh oxygen you take in, the more oxygen can be pumped to your muscles. That’s a good thing! While on the bike, you can also practice breathing patterns. The more you can comfortably control your breathing, the lower you can keep your heart rate. A lowered heart rate can relieve some of the stress your body experiences during training.

Cycling is an ideal addition that can better your aerobic system while being easier on your muscles, joints, and tendons. Riding your bike once or twice can improve your running performance. It’s a great complementary activity that can help you achieve faster running times and reduce the chance injuries. Do you cycle as a means of cross-training? Let us know why in the Austin Marathon Facebook Group or on Twitter.

How these Experts Can Help You Get Better

Learn how the experts at Ascension Seton Sports Performance can help you get better as a runner

Runners are always looking for ways to improve while preventing injury. Whether you’re trying to shave a few seconds off your PR or qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials, runners want to get better. If you’re really looking to dive into your analytics, adjust your diet, and prevent injuries, add Ascension Seton Sports Performance to your training regimen. Dr. Jakob Allen and his team of dedicated professionals have access to state-of-the-art equipment to help you get better. Runners of all speeds and experience levels are welcome! Email them at sportssci@ascension.org to learn more about how they can help you get better as a runner.

Sports Performance Training

Image of Ascension Seton Sports Performance brochure. It breaks down all of their services and ways that can help you get better as a runner. Click on image to open the PDF version of the brochure.Ascension Seton Sports Performance believes everyone should have access to the same science-backed training services that professional athletes use. As one of their clients you will receive personalized 60-minute training designed to help you get better and improve:

  • cardiovascular fitness
  • proficiency with movement patterns fundamental to life and sport performance
  • explosive muscle strength
  • aerobic endurance
  • balance and coordination
  • reaction
  • and more

They also have Sports Science Testing Services that can identify VO2max, body composition, lactate threshold, sweat sodium analysis, and more. Click on the image to see all of their services and training opportunities.

Ascension Seton Sports Performance

Optimizing performance in athletics and daily life requires a team of dedicated and experienced individuals. These people focus their skills, energy, and passion on striving towards a common goal — excellence. Ascension Seton Sports Performance is a groundbreaking initiative that aims to deliver professional-level coaching, conditioning, and guidance to athletes of every background and experience level. With access to state-of-the-art physiological testing, clients receive unparalleled performance-enhancing strategies. These strategies can guide training, monitor progress, and prevent injuries.

In Central Texas, Ascension Seton has been at the forefront of innovation for more than a century. They have years of experience working with elite athletes. They also have access to medical expertise across multiple disciplines at a level unmatched in Central Texas. Their goal is to provide world-class services, care, and tools to promote performance in all aspects of sport and life. 

Of course, runners can see improvement on their own when they boost their hydration and gain strength. But taking your training plan to the next level with Ascension Seton Sports Performance can help you get better. Email sportssci@ascension.org for pricing or further information.

About Dr. Jakob Allen

Dr. Allen received his Doctoral training from the nationally ranked University of Texas at Austin. He was an 8x All-American collegiate swimmer at Stanford, American Record holder, NCAA and Pac-10 Champion, and 2x Olympic Trials qualifier. Dr. Allen is now an avid cyclist and triathlete, frequently placing in the top-5 overall amateurs in Central Texas triathlons. He is driven to bring about the greatest potential of all athletes whether you are a weekend warrior or an Olympian.

Dr. Allen currently serves as the Sports Scientist for the Austin Bold FC team in addition to his work in the clinic. He believes that exercise remains one of the best ways to improve every physiological system in the body throughout the lifespan. Whether it’s helping prevent changes in mental acuity, or improving muscle function, the benefits of exercise continue to be supported by scientific studies. Dr. Allen specializes in designing exercise training programs for improving muscle and cardiovascular health for aging wellness and masters athlete performance