Difference between revisions of "Lactate Threshold"

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Lactate Threshold is a key component of running performance, and is a better predictor of race performance than [[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]]. Lactate Threshold can be thought of a reflecting a change from largely aerobic exercise to largely anaerobic exercise. Lactate Threshold is often used to determine the correct pace for [[Tempo Runs]], though the science indicates such training is ineffective at best. However, Lactate Threshold provides an excellent way of monitoring the effectiveness of your training, and provides an objective estimate of your race pace. Unfortunately, measuring Lactate Threshold is time consuming and expensive, with the gold standard MLSS test requiring three to five 30 minute tests on separate days.  
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Lactate Threshold is a key component of running performance and is a better predictor of race performance than [[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]]. You can think of Lactate Threshold as reflecting a change from aerobic exercise to anaerobic exercise. Lactate Threshold is often used to determine the correct pace for [[Tempo Runs]], though the science shows such training is ineffective. However, Lactate Threshold provides an excellent way of monitoring the effectiveness of your training and provides an objective estimate of your race pace. Unfortunately, measuring an athlete's Lactate Threshold is time-consuming and expensive, with the gold standard MLSS test requiring three to five 30 minute tests on separate days. All other approaches to measuring an athlete's Lactate Threshold seem deeply flawed. A better approach to your anaerobic threshold is [[Critical Power]].  
 
=What is Lactate?=
 
=What is Lactate?=
 
''Main article: [[Lactate]]''
 
''Main article: [[Lactate]]''
  
At one time [[Lactate]] was viewed as a harmful waste product due anaerobic exercise, but research since the early 2000s has shown that Lactate is an intermediate fuel in the metabolism of carbohydrates. Muscles will burn Lactate in preference to Glucose, and will convert Lactate back to Glucose at rest. The level of Lactate in the blood is primarily dependent on exercise intensity, rather like [[Heart Rate]]. Lactate is used as a fuel source by working muscles, and injecting extra lactate into the blood results in increased lactate metabolism and carbohydrate sparing<ref name="MillerFattor2002"/> without impairing performance<ref name="EllisSimmons2009"/>. Note that Lactate forms Lactic Acid in the blood, and the terms are used interchangeably.  
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At one time, athletes viewed [[Lactate]] as a harmful waste product of anaerobic exercise, but research since the early 2000s has shown that Lactate is an intermediate fuel in the metabolism of carbohydrates. Muscles will burn Lactate in preference to Glucose and will convert Lactate back to Glucose at rest. The level of Lactate in the blood primarily depends on exercise intensity, rather like [[Heart Rate]]. Lactate is a fuel source for working muscles, and injecting extra lactate into the blood results in increased lactate metabolism and carbohydrate sparing<ref name="MillerFattor2002"/> without impairing performance<ref name="EllisSimmons2009"/>. Note that Lactate forms Lactic Acid in the blood, and literature uses the terms interchangeably.  
 
=What is the Lactate Threshold?=
 
=What is the Lactate Threshold?=
The Lactate Threshold (LT) is the point at which the lactate level in the blood will rise even if the work intensity is kept constant. This is sometimes referred to as the Anaerobic Threshold (AT), or the Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA), though the most accurate term is Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS). Even within the scientific community terminology is confusing<ref name="Binder-2008"/>. It is sometimes believed that the MLSS represents the maximum clearance of Lactate, but this may not be the case<ref name="EllisSimmons2009"/>. Note that Lactate is normally measured in the blood stream, so the Lactate level reflects the net of the muscles releasing and absorbing Lactate.  
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The Lactate Threshold (LT) is the point at which the lactate level in your blood will rise even if you keep the work intensity constant. This can be referred to as the Anaerobic Threshold (AT), or the Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA), though the most accurate term is Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS). Even within the scientific community terminology is confusing<ref name="Binder-2008"/>. It is sometimes claimed that the MLSS represents the maximum clearance of Lactate, but this may not be the case<ref name="EllisSimmons2009"/>. Note that you normally measure Lactate in the bloodstream, so the Lactate level reflects the net of the muscles releasing and absorbing Lactate.  
Lactate Threshold is important as it is an excellent good predictor of race performance<ref name="Billat-1996"/><ref name="Palmer-1999"/><ref name="Baldari-2000"/><ref name="Jones-2000"/><ref name="Lehmann-1983"/><ref name="Tanaka-1984"/>, and may be a better predictor than [[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]]<ref name="Allen-1985"/>. Lactate Threshold can be thought of as the percentage of VO2max that can be maintained for a protracted time<ref name="Costill-1973"/>, though it's not clear what the limiting factor is for exercise above the Lactate Threshold<ref name="Baron-2008"/>.
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Lactate Threshold is important as it is an excellent good predictor of race performance<ref name="Billat-1996"/><ref name="Palmer-1999-perform"/><ref name="Baldari-2000"/><ref name="Jones-2000"/><ref name="Lehmann-1983"/><ref name="Tanaka-1984"/>, and may be a better predictor than [[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]]<ref name="Allen-1985"/>. You can think of Lactate Threshold as the percentage of VO2max that you can maintain for a protracted time<ref name="Costill-1973"/>. (It's not clear what the limiting factor is for exercise above the Lactate Threshold<ref name="Baron-2008"/>.)
 
=Lactate Threshold Training =
 
=Lactate Threshold Training =
 
''Main article: [[Tempo Runs]]''
 
''Main article: [[Tempo Runs]]''
  
There is good evidence that endurance training changes Lactate Threshold. However, the idea that training at threshold intensity, such as [[Tempo Runs]], is particularly effective has no evidence<ref name="Beneke-2011"/>"/><ref name="Guellich-2010"/>, and polarized training is a better approach<ref name="StögglSperlich2014"/><ref name="Muñoz-2014"/>. For trained athletes, Tempo runs are ineffective<ref name="Londeree-1997"/> and may actually be counterproductive<ref name="Evertsen-2001"/><ref name="Guellich-2010"/>. See [[Tempo Runs]] for more details.  
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There is good evidence that endurance training changes Lactate Threshold. However, the idea that training at threshold intensity, such as [[Tempo Runs]], is particularly effective has no evidence<ref name="Beneke-2011"/>"/><ref name="Guellich-2010"/>, and polarized training is a better approach<ref name="StögglSperlich2014"/><ref name="Muñoz-2014"/>. For trained athletes, Tempo runs are ineffective<ref name="Londeree-1997"/> and may be counterproductive<ref name="Evertsen-2001"/><ref name="Guellich-2010"/>. See [[Tempo Runs]] for more details.  
Detraining shifts will reduce the Lactate Threshold<ref name="Coyle-1985"/>, and Lactate levels can be higher at a given intensity after just a few days without training<ref name="Mujika-2001"/>, suggesting rapid detraining effects.  
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Detraining will reduce your Lactate Threshold<ref name="Coyle-1985"/>, and your Lactate levels can be higher at a given intensity after just a few days without training<ref name="Mujika-2001"/>, suggesting rapid detraining effects. The improvements in Lactate Threshold pace are largely because of a greater rate of Lactate removal rather than a reduced rate of production<ref name="Phillips-1995"/><ref name="MacRae-1992"/><ref name="Donovan-1989"/><ref name="Donovan-1983"/><ref name="Bergman-1999"/>.
 
=The Usefulness of Lactate Threshold=
 
=The Usefulness of Lactate Threshold=
One of the primary goals of Lactate Threshold testing is to determine the correct pace for [[Tempo Runs]]. However, even if Tempo training is ineffective there are two good reasons for knowing your Lactate Threshold. Firstly, monitoring Lactate Threshold is a great way of evaluating the effectiveness of a training regime. Secondly, Lactate Threshold can be used to validate race pace goals. If your Lactate Threshold suggests a much faster race pace than you've been able to achieve, it suggests either a lack of resistance to muscular damage or a lack of mental fortitude. If the Lactate Threshold suggests a race pace that is slower than your target goal, it suggests you objective is wrong and you should aim for a slower finish time. This is especially important in the marathon, where "hitting the wall" is a common issue.  
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One of the primary goals of Lactate Threshold testing has been to determine the correct pace for [[Tempo Runs]]. However, even if Tempo training is ineffective, there are two good reasons for knowing your Lactate Threshold. First, monitoring your Lactate Threshold is great for evaluating the effectiveness of a training regime. Second, Lactate Threshold can validate race pace goals. If your Lactate Threshold indicates a much faster race pace than you've been able to achieve, it suggests either a lack of resistance to muscular damage or a lack of mental fortitude. If the Lactate Threshold suggests a race pace that is slower than your target goal, it suggests your goal is wrong and you should aim for a slower finish time. This is especially important in the marathon where hitting the wall is a common issue.  
 
=Lactate Curve=
 
=Lactate Curve=
It is common to plot exercise intensity against lactate level to produce a blood lactate curve similar to the one below, showing an exponential rise in lactate level with intensity. It's generally accepted that a shift of the curve to the right indicates an improved athletic performance<ref name="Bosquet-2002"/><ref name="Yoshida-1990"/>, and training can improve performance because of this shift without a change in aerobic capacity ([[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]])<ref name="Acevedo-1989"/>. There is some limited evidence from radio-isotope studies in animals that a benefit of endurance training may be in Lactate clearance<ref name="Donovan-1983"/>. Note that above the Lactate Threshold the Lactate level is not at a steady state, but rises even though the intensity remains constant, so the typical curve that is shown is rather misleading. Some Lactate Curves are plotting Blood Lactate against time during an Incremental Power Test (see below), which is more reasonable, but can still be rather misleading.  
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It is common to plot exercise intensity against the lactate level to produce a blood lactate curve similar to the one below, showing an exponential rise in lactate level with intensity. It's generally accepted that a shift of the curve to the right shows an improved athletic performance<ref name="Bosquet-2002"/><ref name="Yoshida-1990"/>, and training can improve performance because of this shift without a change in aerobic capacity ([[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]])<ref name="Acevedo-1989"/>. There is some limited evidence from radio-isotope studies in animals that a benefit of endurance training may be in Lactate clearance<ref name="Donovan-1983"/>. Above the Lactate Threshold, the Lactate level is not at a steady-state but rises even though the intensity remains constant, so the typical curve shown below is rather misleading. Some Lactate Curves are plotting Blood Lactate against time during an Incremental Power Test (see below), which is more reasonable but is still misleading.  
 
[[File:LactateThreshold.png|none|thumb|500px|A blood lactate curve with lactate level plotted against intensity. Note that above the Lactate Threshold there is no fixed relationship between Lactate and work intensity, so the curve is misleading at best. ]]
 
[[File:LactateThreshold.png|none|thumb|500px|A blood lactate curve with lactate level plotted against intensity. Note that above the Lactate Threshold there is no fixed relationship between Lactate and work intensity, so the curve is misleading at best. ]]
=Determining Lactate Threshold=
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=Determining Your Lactate Threshold=
There are various ways of determining the Lactate Threshold, each with their own problems.  
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There are various ways of determining the Lactate Threshold, each with their problems.
* '''MLSS'''. The gold standard test (and the only one that appears to be valid) is to measure Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS). The test requires 3 to 5 constant intensity trials of at least 30 minutes' duration, each performed on separate days. Each test is at a different exercise intensity, and the highest intensity that does not have a rise in blood lactate in the last 20 minutes is the MLSS. While this is the best way of determining Lactate threshold, it's obviously time consuming and interferes with the athlete's regular training. Because of the effort of MLSS testing, various shortcuts have been tried.  
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* '''Critical Power'''. A better alternative is to ignore Lactate and focus on power output. With [[Stryd]] this can be applied to running, though Critical Power tests for runners may have a higher risk for injury. Before Stryd, the approach was to use "Critical Speed" on level ground. See [[Critical Power]] for details.  
* '''Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation'''. A simple approach is to assume that Lactate Threshold always occurs at the same Lactate level. Sadly, this assumption is wrong, as Lactate Threshold can occur at vastly different levels.  
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* '''MLSS'''. The gold standard test for Lactate Threshold (and the only one that appears to be valid) is to measure Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS). The test requires 3 to 5 constant intensity trials of at least 30 minutes' duration, each performed on separate days. Each test is at a different exercise intensity, and the highest intensity that does not have a rise in blood lactate in the last 20 minutes is the MLSS. While this is the best way of determining the Lactate threshold, it's time-consuming and interferes with the athlete's regular training. Even though MLSS is the best approach to determining the Lactate Threshold, there are issues with MLSS and Critical Power is probably a better approach.  
* '''Lactate Patterns'''. There are various approaches that look at the pattern of change in Lactate in an attempt to create a simple test. So far, I've seen little evidence to support any of these approaches.  
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* '''Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation'''. A simple approach is to assume that the Lactate Threshold always occurs at the same Lactate level. Sadly, this assumption is wrong, as Lactate Threshold can occur at vastly different levels.  
* '''Heart Rate Deflection'''. An indirect way of finding Lactate Threshold is to look for the [[Heart Rate Deflection]], sometimes called the "Conconi test". This test only requires a heart rate monitor to perform rather than blood draws, so it is much easier than the above approaches. However, the validity of the Conconi test has many issues and seems of dubious value<ref name="Cook2011"/>. See [[Heart Rate Deflection]] for details.  
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* '''Lactate Patterns'''. Some approaches look at the pattern of change in Lactate in an attempt to create a simple test. So far, I've seen little evidence to support any of these approaches.  
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* '''Heart Rate Deflection'''. An indirect way of finding the Lactate Threshold is to look for the [[Heart Rate Deflection]], sometimes called the "Conconi test". This test only requires a heart rate monitor to perform rather than blood draws, so it is much easier than the above approaches. However, the validity of the Conconi test has many issues and seems of dubious value<ref name="Cook2011"/>. See [[Heart Rate Deflection]] for details.  
 
* '''Respiratory gasses'''. Another method for estimating Lactate Threshold is to measure the respiratory gasses<ref name="Binder-2008"/><ref name="Laplaud-2006"/>, but given this is impractical for most athletes, it's not covered here.  
 
* '''Respiratory gasses'''. Another method for estimating Lactate Threshold is to measure the respiratory gasses<ref name="Binder-2008"/><ref name="Laplaud-2006"/>, but given this is impractical for most athletes, it's not covered here.  
 
==Lactate Threshold & Maximal Lactate Steady State ==
 
==Lactate Threshold & Maximal Lactate Steady State ==
The best approach to determine Lactate Threshold is to measure the Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS)<ref name="Faude-2009"/>. The test is actually several constant load trials of at least 30 minutes' duration on different days at various exercise intensities (in the range of 50–90% [[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]]. The highest workload that results in an increase of less than 1 mmol/L of lactate between the 10 and 30 minute mark defines the MLSS<ref name="Urhausen-1993"/><ref name="De SouzaGrossl2012"/><ref name="Beneke-2003"/>. Lactate is typically measured using a blood sample, either using a pinprick or a catheter. Note that MLSS for a given individual will vary by sport<ref name="Figueira-2008"/>, probably based on the mass of muscle engaged<ref name="Beneke-1996"/><ref name="Beneke-2003-2"/>. The difficulty of performing this test makes it impractical in most situations.  
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The best approach to determine an athlete's Lactate Threshold is to measure the Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS)<ref name="Faude-2009"/>. The test is several constant load trials of at least 30 minutes' duration on different days at various exercise intensities (between 50–90% [[VO2max|V̇O<sub>2</sub>max]]. The highest workload that results in an increase of less than 1 mmol/L of lactate between the 10 and 30 minute mark defines the MLSS<ref name="Urhausen-1993"/><ref name="De SouzaGrossl2012"/><ref name="Beneke-2003"/>. Lactate is typically measured using a blood sample, either using a pinprick or a catheter. Note that MLSS for an individual will vary by sport<ref name="Figueira-2008"/>, probably based on the mass of muscle engaged<ref name="Beneke-1996"/><ref name="Beneke-2003-2"/>. The difficulty of performing this test makes it impractical in most situations. Researchers have raised concerns that even when performed correctly, there are issues with MLSS and suggest that [[Critical Power]] is a better approach<ref name="JonesBurnley2019"/>. The primary issue is that MLSS doesn't truly represent the upper limit of aerobic capacity.  
[[File:LactateMLSS.jpg|none|thumb|500px|Blood lactate levels over time at various workloads. The lower lines are at lower intensities, with the line marked MLSS being the highest intensity that produces stable lactate levels.]]
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[[File:LactateMLSS.jpg|none|thumb|500px|Blood lactate levels plotted against time at different workloads. The lower lines are at lower intensities, with the line marked MLSS being the highest intensity that produces stable lactate levels.]]
 
==Lactate Threshold & Incremental Power Test ==
 
==Lactate Threshold & Incremental Power Test ==
A common approach to determine the Lactate Threshold is the Incremental Power Test. The subject exercises in stages of increasing intensity, with lactate measured at the end of each stage, with stages typically lasting 3 to 10 minutes. However, blood lactate takes 20-30 minutes to stabilize for a given intensity<ref name="Billat-1996"/>. This means that the incremental power test tends to be of limited value<ref name="Foxdal-1996"/>, with 3 minute stages giving low reproducibility<ref name="Morton-2012"/>, the stage length changing the lactate values<ref name="Faude-2009"/>, and even longer stages lengths of 8 minutes having low reproducibility<ref name="Gavin-2014"/>. The lactate level can drop between the 4<sup>th</sup> and 12<sup>th</sup> minute of exercise at a constant intensity<ref name="RieuMiladi1989"/>. Some have suggested using the lactate value measured as an indication of the prior stage's intensity, as it takes more than 3 minutes for lactate to stabilize<ref name="Orok-1989"/>, but this rather arbitrary approach can be used as a guideline (at best)<ref name="Baldari-2000"/>. For running, it is common to pause the exercise for 30 seconds to take a blood sample. These breaks only make a non-significant difference to the testing, though the slight difference tends to be greater at higher intensities<ref name="GullstrandSjüdin2007"/>.
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A common approach to determine the Lactate Threshold is the Incremental Power Test. The subject exercises in stages of increasing intensity, with lactate measured at the end of each stage, with stages typically lasting 3 to 10 minutes. However, blood lactate takes 20-30 minutes to stabilize for an intensity<ref name="Billat-1996"/>. This means that the incremental power test is of limited value<ref name="Foxdal-1996"/>, with 3 minute stages giving low reproducibility<ref name="Morton-2012"/>, the stage length changing the lactate values<ref name="Faude-2009"/>, and even longer stages lengths of 8 minutes having low reproducibility<ref name="Gavin-2014"/>. The lactate level can drop between the 4<sup>th</sup> and 12<sup>th</sup> minute of exercise at a constant intensity<ref name="RieuMiladi1989"/>. Some have suggested using the lactate value measured as a sign of the prior stage's intensity, as it takes over 3 minutes for lactate to stabilize<ref name="Orok-1989"/>, but this rather arbitrary approach might be a guideline<ref name="Baldari-2000"/>. For running, it is common to pause the exercise for 30 seconds to take a blood sample. These breaks only make a non-significant difference to the testing, though the slight difference tends to be greater at higher intensities<ref name="GullstrandSjüdin2007"/>.
 
==Lactate Threshold & Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation==
 
==Lactate Threshold & Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation==
Because MLSS is time consuming and expensive, a shortcut is often used to estimate MLSS by assuming that it occurs at a fixed Lactate Level (Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation, or FBLA)<ref name="De SouzaGrossl2012"/>, unusually 4.0 mmol/l<ref name="Heck-1985"/> though sometimes 3.5 mmol/l<ref name="DenadaiFigueira2004"/><ref name="Denadai-2005"/>. However, while the MLSS may average around 4.0 mmol/l<ref name="Denadai-2005"/>, there are significant differences for individuals<ref name="Mamen-2009"/>, with variations between 3.0 and 5.5 in small sample sizes<ref name="Heck-1985"/> and has been shown to have a range as wide as 2.0 to 10.0 mmol/l<ref name="Faude-2009"/><ref name="Stegmann-1981"/>. This approach also typically uses a blood test, but in some sports (like running), the athlete has to pause to have a pinprick blood sample taken, further confusing the test<ref name="Heck-1985"/>. The term "Individual Anaerobic Threshold" (IAT) has been used to emphasize that the Lactate Threshold is specific to each individual rather than using a FBLA, though this can refer to a specific protocol for estimating MLSS<ref name="Stegmann-1981"/>. The Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation is sometimes called "Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation" (OBLA)<ref name="Mamen-2009"/>, a particularly misleading term in this context.  
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Because MLSS is time consuming and expensive, a shortcut is often used to estimate MLSS by assuming that it occurs at a fixed Lactate Level (Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation, or FBLA)<ref name="De SouzaGrossl2012"/>, unusually 4.0 mmol/l<ref name="Heck-1985"/> though sometimes 3.5 mmol/l<ref name="DenadaiFigueira2004"/><ref name="Denadai-2005"/>. However, while the MLSS may average around 4.0 mmol/l<ref name="Denadai-2005"/>, there are significant differences for individuals<ref name="Mamen-2009"/>, with variations between 3.0 and 5.5 in small sample sizes<ref name="Heck-1985"/> and has been shown to have a range as wide as 2.0 to 10.0 mmol/l<ref name="Faude-2009"/><ref name="Stegmann-1981"/>. This approach also typically uses a blood test, but in some sports (like running), the athlete has to pause to have a pinprick blood sample taken, further confusing the test<ref name="Heck-1985"/>. The term "Individual Anaerobic Threshold" (IAT) has been used to emphasize that the Lactate Threshold is specific to each individual rather than using a Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation, though this can refer to a specific protocol for estimating MLSS<ref name="Stegmann-1981"/>. The Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation is sometimes called "Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation" (OBLA)<ref name="Mamen-2009"/>, a particularly misleading term in this context.  
 
==Lactate Threshold Estimation From Lactate Patterns==
 
==Lactate Threshold Estimation From Lactate Patterns==
There have been several approaches to determining MLSS without the difficulty of the full protocol<ref name="Billat-1994"/><ref name="Harnish-2001"/><ref name="Palmer-1999"/><ref name="Tegtbur-1993"/><ref name="Dickhuth-1999"/><ref name="Urhausen-1993"/>, but their validity is limited<ref name="Kilding-2005"/><ref name="De SouzaGrossl2012"/><ref name="Beneke-1995"/><ref name="Jones-1998"/>. These approaches generally look for some pattern in the change of Lactate level.  
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There have been several approaches to determining MLSS without the difficulty of the full protocol<ref name="Harnish-2001"/><ref name="Palmer-1999-1day"/><ref name="Tegtbur-1993"/><ref name="Dickhuth-1999"/><ref name="Urhausen-1993"/>, but their validity is limited<ref name="Kilding-2005"/><ref name="De SouzaGrossl2012"/><ref name="Beneke-1995"/><ref name="Jones-1998"/>. These approaches generally look for some pattern in the change of Lactate level.  
For example, one approach called the "Lactate Minimum Speed Test" (LMST) uses an initial sprint to elevate blood lactate followed by an incremental power test<ref name="SoteroPardono2009"/><ref name="Sotero-2009"/><ref name="MiyagiLeite2013"/>. However, the effectiveness of the LMST is profoundly impacted by the starting speed of the incremental portion of the test<ref name="Carter-1999"/>and so the results may be coincidence<ref name="Carter-2000"/>. This is not entirely surprising given the initial sprint phase disrupts the metabolism<ref name="Carter-2000"/>.  
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* For example, one approach called the "Lactate Minimum Speed Test" (LMST) uses an initial sprint to elevate blood lactate followed by an incremental power test<ref name="SoteroPardono2009"/><ref name="Sotero-2009"/><ref name="MiyagiLeite2013"/>. However, the effectiveness of the LMST is profoundly impacted by the starting speed of the incremental portion of the test<ref name="Carter-1999"/>and so the results may be coincidence<ref name="Carter-2000"/>. This is not entirely surprising given the initial sprint phase disrupts the metabolism<ref name="Carter-2000"/>.  
Some trivial approaches have been tried, such as looking for a 1 mmol/l increase followed by another 1 mmol/l increase<ref name="CTS"/>. So for an athlete performing an incremental load test with [[Lactate]] readings of 1.7, 2.3, 2.6, 3.7, & 5.6 the conclusion would be their Lactate Threshold is 3.7 (3.7 is more than 1.0 more than 2.6 and followed by another increment of more than 1.0.) However, given that most portable Lactate meters have a Typical Error of 0.4-1.0 mmol/l<ref name="Tanner-2010"/>, a fractional error in the reading gives a different result. In the previous example, if the 2.6 reading was 2.8, then the Lactate Threshold would jump from 3.7 to 5.6.  
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* Some trivial approaches have been tried, such as looking for a 1 mmol/l increase followed by another 1 mmol/l increase<ref name="CTS"/>. So for an athlete performing an incremental load test with [[Lactate]] readings of 1.7, 2.3, 2.6, 3.7, & 5.6 the conclusion would be their Lactate Threshold is 3.7 (3.7 is over 1.0 over 2.6 and followed by another increment of over 1.0.) However, given that most portable Lactate meters have a Typical Error of 0.4-1.0 mmol/l<ref name="Tanner-2010"/>, a fractional error in the reading gives a different result. In the previous example, if the 2.6 reading was 2.8, then the Lactate Threshold would jump from 3.7 to 5.6.  
Part of the problem with these approaches may be that MLSS may not represent the point of maximum lactate clearance<ref name="Beneke-2003-2"/>, as injecting additional lactate into the blood of athletes exercising above MLSS did not significantly increase lactate levels<ref name="EllisSimmons2009"/>.
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* Part of the problem with these approaches may be that MLSS may not represent the point of maximum lactate clearance<ref name="Beneke-2003-2"/>, as injecting additional lactate into the blood of athletes exercising above MLSS did not significantly increase lactate levels<ref name="EllisSimmons2009"/>.
Some of the tests could be "p-hacking", where the study looks at a sufficiently large number of variables that some correlation occurs randomly<ref name="HeadHolman2015"/>.
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* Some of the tests could be "p-hacking", where the study looks at a sufficiently large number of variables that some correlation occurs randomly<ref name="HeadHolman2015"/>.
 
[[File:LactateComp.jpg|none|thumb|500px|The correlation (or lack thereof) between MLSS and the lactate levels at the MLSS intensity seen during 3 or 5 minute incremental power tests<ref name="Heck-1985"/>.]]
 
[[File:LactateComp.jpg|none|thumb|500px|The correlation (or lack thereof) between MLSS and the lactate levels at the MLSS intensity seen during 3 or 5 minute incremental power tests<ref name="Heck-1985"/>.]]
==Lactate Threshold And Near Infrared Spectroscopy==
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* One approach that looks promising uses three tests to estimate MLSS<ref name="Billat-1994"/>. First, a standard incremental test is used to give a rough estimate of MLSS. Then two 30 minute tests are performed, one above and one below the rough estimate of MLSS. The relative difference in the rise between the two tests is then used to estimate the crossover point. For instance, assume running at 7:00 min/mile produced a blood lactate level that fell from 4 mmol/l at 5 min to 3 mmol/l at 20 min, a 1 mmol/l drop. Then a run at In the run at 6:20 min/mile the blood lactate rose from 4.0 mmol/l at 5 min to 6.5 mmol/l at 20 min, a 1.5 mmol/l rise. The interception point would then be about an MLSS pace of 6:26 min/mile. This is not much less effort than the full MLSS test, but it is an improvement.
A promising technology for measuring Lactate Threshold is Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) which shines infrared light into the skin above an active muscle and measures the reflected light. NIRS measures the oxygen saturation in the capillaries of the muscle and has the potential to test for Lactate Threshold without any blood sampling. Because NIRS can monitor continually, it is possible that it may be able to determine the Lactate Threshold during an incremental test rather than requiring the multiple tests of MLSS.  
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==Lactate Threshold and Near-Infrared Spectroscopy==
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A promising technology for measuring Lactate Threshold is Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) which shines infrared light into the skin above an active muscle and measures the reflected light. NIRS measures the oxygen saturation in the capillaries of the muscle and has the potential to test for Lactate Threshold with no blood sampling. Because NIRS can monitor continually, it may be able to determine the Lactate Threshold during an incremental test rather than requiring the multiple tests of MLSS.  
 
===Introduction to NIRS and SmO2===
 
===Introduction to NIRS and SmO2===
Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been shown to measure the oxygen saturation of blood in muscle (SmO<sub>2</sub>) or other body tissues (StO<sub>2</sub>)<ref name="Kek-2008"/><ref name="Torricelli-2004"/><ref name="Mancini-1994"/>. (This works on similar principles to a [[Pulse Oximeter]].) Medical NIRS systems for monitoring StO<sub>2</sub> use Infrared LED or Lasers at 2, 3, or 4 frequencies<ref name="Hyttel-Sorensen-2011"/>. SmO<sub>2</sub> reflects the balance of oxygen delivery and consumption during exercise<ref name="Chance-1992"/> and there are some initial indications that relative SmO<sub>2</sub> may reflect changes in performance capacity<ref name="Neary-2005"/>. There is generally a four phase response of smo2 during incremental exercise from rest to maximum intensity and the following recovery<ref name="Belardinelli-1995a"/>:
+
Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been shown to measure the oxygen saturation of blood in muscle (SmO<sub>2</sub>) or other body tissues (StO<sub>2</sub>)<ref name="Kek-2008"/><ref name="Torricelli-2004"/><ref name="Mancini-1994"/>. (This works on similar principles to a [[Pulse Oximeter]].) Medical NIRS systems for monitoring StO<sub>2</sub> use Infrared LED or Lasers at 2, 3, or 4 frequencies<ref name="Hyttel-Sorensen-2011"/>. SmO<sub>2</sub> reflects the balance of oxygen delivery and consumption during exercise<ref name="Chance-1992"/>. There are some initial indications that relative SmO<sub>2</sub> may reflect changes in performance capacity<ref name="Neary-2005"/>. There is generally a four-phase response of smo2 during incremental exercise from rest to maximum intensity and the following recovery<ref name="Belardinelli-1995a"/>:
 
# An initial increase in SmO<sub>2</sub> above resting levels to supply the now active muscles. (This may be due to increased blood flow<ref name="Bhambhani-1997"/>, but computer models do not support this<ref name="Fuglevand-1997"/>.)  
 
# An initial increase in SmO<sub>2</sub> above resting levels to supply the now active muscles. (This may be due to increased blood flow<ref name="Bhambhani-1997"/>, but computer models do not support this<ref name="Fuglevand-1997"/>.)  
 
# SmO<sub>2</sub> decreases linearly or exponentially with increasing intensity, followed by a leveling off as the subject approaches maximum intensity. There is some evidence of a breakpoint where the rate of decline increases (see below).  
 
# SmO<sub>2</sub> decreases linearly or exponentially with increasing intensity, followed by a leveling off as the subject approaches maximum intensity. There is some evidence of a breakpoint where the rate of decline increases (see below).  
# During the first 1-2 minutes of recovery there is a rapid increase in SmO<sub>2</sub> which usually exceeds resting levels.  
+
# During the first 1-2 minutes of recovery, there is a rapid increase in SmO<sub>2</sub> which usually exceeds resting levels.  
 
# SmO<sub>2</sub> then declines to resting levels over a further few minutes.  
 
# SmO<sub>2</sub> then declines to resting levels over a further few minutes.  
Skin should not impact SmO<sub>2</sub> readings more than 5%<ref name="Hampson-1988"/>, but surface fat can interfere with smo2<ref name="van Beekvelt-2001"/><ref name="Homma1996"/><ref name="BenaronMatsushita1998"/><ref name="BenaronYamamoto1998"/>. Because the penetration depth of NIRS is about 50-60% of the distance between the emitter and receiver, the site must be selected so that the fat layer is much thinner than this depth<ref name="Bhambhani-2004"/>.
+
Skin should not impact SmO<sub>2</sub> readings more than 5%<ref name="Hampson-1988"/>, but surface fat can interfere with smo2<ref name="van Beekvelt-2001"/><ref name="Homma1996"/><ref name="BenaronMatsushita1998"/><ref name="BenaronYamamoto1998"/>. Because the penetration depth of NIRS is about 50-60% of the distance between the emitter and receiver, the site must be selected so that the fat layer is much thinner than this depth<ref name="Bhambhani-2004"/>. (It's been suggested that SmO2 is probably only viable in lean individuals.)
 
===SmO<sub>2</sub> Breakpoint===
 
===SmO<sub>2</sub> Breakpoint===
 
As the intensity increases during incremental exercise SmO<sub>2</sub> will remain constant or decline, with the rate of decline being greater near the Lactate Threshold<ref name="Belardinelli-1995a"/><ref name="Bhambhani-2004"/><ref name="Belardinelli-1995b"/>. This has led to several studies using the concept of an SmO<sub>2</sub> "breakpoint"<ref name="Grassi-1999"/>. This breakpoint is a change in the slope of the line plotting SmO<sub>2</sub> against work intensity in an incremental intensity test. This increase in the rate of desaturation can either be visually determined or based on bilinear regression. (The bilinear regression iterates over different combinations of two regression lines to find the lowest sum of squares of the residuals. I could not find the details of the constraints placed on this approach.)  
 
As the intensity increases during incremental exercise SmO<sub>2</sub> will remain constant or decline, with the rate of decline being greater near the Lactate Threshold<ref name="Belardinelli-1995a"/><ref name="Bhambhani-2004"/><ref name="Belardinelli-1995b"/>. This has led to several studies using the concept of an SmO<sub>2</sub> "breakpoint"<ref name="Grassi-1999"/>. This breakpoint is a change in the slope of the line plotting SmO<sub>2</sub> against work intensity in an incremental intensity test. This increase in the rate of desaturation can either be visually determined or based on bilinear regression. (The bilinear regression iterates over different combinations of two regression lines to find the lowest sum of squares of the residuals. I could not find the details of the constraints placed on this approach.)  
 
[[File:SmO2 Breakpoint1.jpg|none|thumb|500px|A graph showing the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint.]]
 
[[File:SmO2 Breakpoint1.jpg|none|thumb|500px|A graph showing the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint.]]
 +
Another approach used by<ref name="Snyder-2009"/> was defined as the workload immediately before a drop of 15% that lead to a continuous decline in SmO<sub>2</sub>. This is shown in the image below, showing a recording with and without a defined breakpoint.
 +
[[File:SmO2 Breakpoints With-Without.jpg|center|thumb|300px|]]
 
===SmO<sub>2</sub> and Lactate Threshold===
 
===SmO<sub>2</sub> and Lactate Threshold===
A number of studies have looked at the relationship between SmO<sub>2</sub> and Lactate or Lactate Threshold
+
Several studies have looked at the relationship between SmO<sub>2</sub> and Lactate or Lactate Threshold
* A study of five mountain climbers found a relationship between the "point of inflection of lactate" and the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Grassi-1999"/>. The definition they were using for the inflection of lactate was a blood lactate reading that is more than 0.5 below the subsequent value, with typical lactate levels below 2 mmol/l. This is closer to the "aerobic threshold" concept than the typical Lactate Threshold. The study did not find any correlation between the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint and the 4 mmol/l value of blood lactate. The breakpoint was determined from bi-linear regression.  
+
* A study of five mountain climbers found a relationship between the "point of inflection of lactate" and the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Grassi-1999"/>. The definition they were using for the inflection of lactate was a blood lactate reading that is more than 0.5 below the subsequent value, with typical lactate levels below 2 mmol/l. This is closer to the "aerobic threshold" concept than the typical Lactate Threshold. The study did not find any correlation between the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint and the 4 mmol/L blood lactate level. The breakpoint was determined from bi-linear regression.  
 
* A study of 40 sedentary undergraduates showed a correlation between SmO<sub>2</sub> returning to resting levels and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) in 65% of subjects during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Bhambhani-1997"/>. While the text refers to Lactate Threshold as the point at which Lactate rises above resting levels (aerobic threshold) the method used to determine VT appears to be the anaerobic threshold. This study did not use the breakpoint mentioned above, but the point where the SmO<sub>2</sub> drops below the level detected at rest.  
 
* A study of 40 sedentary undergraduates showed a correlation between SmO<sub>2</sub> returning to resting levels and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) in 65% of subjects during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Bhambhani-1997"/>. While the text refers to Lactate Threshold as the point at which Lactate rises above resting levels (aerobic threshold) the method used to determine VT appears to be the anaerobic threshold. This study did not use the breakpoint mentioned above, but the point where the SmO<sub>2</sub> drops below the level detected at rest.  
 
* A study of 11 subjects of varying fitness levels showed a correlation between SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint determined visually and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Belardinelli-1995a"/>.
 
* A study of 11 subjects of varying fitness levels showed a correlation between SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint determined visually and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Belardinelli-1995a"/>.
 
* A comparison between 12 healthy subjects and 7 suffering from chronic heart failure (CHF) showed a correlation between the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Belardinelli-1995c"/>.  
 
* A comparison between 12 healthy subjects and 7 suffering from chronic heart failure (CHF) showed a correlation between the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Belardinelli-1995c"/>.  
 
* A 2012 study compared the results from NIRS on the calf (Gastrocnemius Lateralis) and quads (Vastus Lateralis) in 31 active but not highly trained college students during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Wang-2012"/>. The study found a correlation between Lactate Threshold (determined from the log-log method<ref name="Davis-2007"/>) and the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint (determined from bi-linear regression) in both locations, but the quads corresponded better. (I suspect the results from running could be quite different.)
 
* A 2012 study compared the results from NIRS on the calf (Gastrocnemius Lateralis) and quads (Vastus Lateralis) in 31 active but not highly trained college students during an incremental cycling test<ref name="Wang-2012"/>. The study found a correlation between Lactate Threshold (determined from the log-log method<ref name="Davis-2007"/>) and the SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint (determined from bi-linear regression) in both locations, but the quads corresponded better. (I suspect the results from running could be quite different.)
* A 2009 study used MLSS (the gold standard for Lactate Threshold) with running to evaluate NIRS<ref name="Snyder-2009"/>. The 16 athletes performed between 2 and 5 tests of 30 minutes each to determine MLSS, separated by at least 48 hours each. The subjects then performed an incremental treadmill test using 6 minute stages with the 4th stage at the pace they estimated they could maintain for an hour (around Lactate Threshold). The first 3 stages where then 0.66, 0.44, & 0.22 meter/second slower, and the subsequent stages were 0.22 meters/second faster each time. SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint was defined as the workload immediately prior to a drop of 15% that lead to a continuous decline in smo2. A Lactate breakpoint was also determined based on the incremental test using the workload prior to an increase of 1 mmol/l as the criteria. Both the SmO<sub>2</sub> and Lactate breakpoint were determined visually. Of the 16 subjects, 1 did not reach MLSS, 2 did not have both a SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint or a Lactate breakpoint (based on the criteria used) and 1 did not have either. The study found that SmO<sub>2</sub> is as effective as Lactate breakpoint tests for determining true Lactate Threshold (MLSS). The table below shows the values for each of 12 subjects, with the paces shown as KPH, then min/mile, then the error as a percentage. This shows that while smo2 is as good as the lactate breakpoint, the individual differences from MLSS are not insignificant. For instance, subject 5 had an MLSS of 6:21, but an SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint of 6:57 and lactate breakpoint of 6:59, which is a big difference.  
+
* A 2009 study used MLSS (the gold standard for Lactate Threshold) with running to test NIRS<ref name="Snyder-2009"/>. The 16 athletes performed between 2 and 5 tests of 30 minutes each to determine MLSS, separated by at least 48 hours each. The subjects then performed an incremental treadmill test using 6-minute stages with the 4th stage at the pace they estimated they could maintain for an hour (around Lactate Threshold). The first 3 stages where then 0.66, 0.44, & 0.22 meter/second slower, and the subsequent stages were 0.22 meters/second faster each time. SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint was defined as the workload immediately before a drop of 15% that lead to a continuous decline in SmO<sub>2</sub>. A Lactate breakpoint was also determined based on the incremental test using the workload before an increase of 1 mmol/l as the criteria. Both the SmO<sub>2</sub> and the Lactate breakpoint were determined visually. Of the 16 subjects, 1 did not reach MLSS, 2 did not have both a SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint or a Lactate breakpoint (based on the criteria used) and 1 had neither. The study found that SmO<sub>2</sub> is as effective as Lactate breakpoint tests for determining true Lactate Threshold (MLSS). The table below shows the values for each of 12 subjects, with the paces shown as KPH, then min/mile, then the error as a percentage. This shows that while smo2 is as good as the lactate breakpoint, the individual differences from MLSS are not insignificant. For instance, subject 5 had an MLSS of 6:21, but an SmO<sub>2</sub> breakpoint of 6:57 and a lactate breakpoint of 6:59, which is a big difference.  
{| class="wikitable"  
+
{| class="wikitable" style="margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; border: none;"
 
! Subject
 
! Subject
 
! MLSS
 
! MLSS
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|   
 
|   
 
|}
 
|}
 +
===SmO2 and MLSS===
 +
Sadly, there does not appear to be a difference in SmO<sub>2</sub> during an MLSS test above and below the MLSS threshold pace<ref name="Snyder-2009"/>. If running above the MLSS threshold pace does not result in a drop in smo2, then the ability to use SmO<sub>2</sub> for finding threshold seems rather dubious.
 +
[[File:SmO2 MLSS Test.jpg|center|thumb|300px| A graph of lactate and SmO<sub>2</sub> above and below the MLSS threshold.]]
 
===Thoughts on SmO2 and Lactate Threshold===
 
===Thoughts on SmO2 and Lactate Threshold===
I think that the currently available research indicates that NIRS and SmO<sub>2</sub>hold promise for simplifying the measurement of Lactate Threshold. However, the research is at a fairly early stage, with only one study using the gold standard of MLSS. There are also indications in the research that the indicators of Lactate Threshold are not always evident in all subjects. There is no indication if this is a problem that occurs in specific subjects so that they will never get a valid test result, or if it's a problem that simply occurs randomly. Currently there are two consumer products available; [[BSX]] and [[Moxy]]. BSX is a fully automated approach to analyzing the data and estimating Lactate Threshold, whereas the Moxy is intended to provide the end-user with the underlying data to evaluate.
+
I think the available research shows that NIRS and SmO<sub>2</sub> might hold promise for simplifying the measurement of Lactate Threshold. However, the research is at a fairly early stage, with only one study using the gold standard of MLSS, and the results are mixed at best. In some ways, I feel the MLSS test above shows that SmO<sub>2</sub> is a poor option for evaluating an athlete's Lactate Threshold, but perhaps most existing approaches other than a full MLSS test are equally flawed. Currently, there are two consumer products available; [[BSX]] and [[Moxy]]. BSX is a fully automated approach to analyzing the data and estimating Lactate Threshold, whereas the Moxy is intended to provide the end-user with the underlying data to evaluate. (BSX is being discontinued.)
=Factors That May Influence Lactate Threshold=
+
=Factors That May Influence An Athlete's Lactate Threshold=
 
There are a few factors that may change the Lactate Threshold (other than training)
 
There are a few factors that may change the Lactate Threshold (other than training)
 
* Because lactate is produced from the metabolism of carbohydrate, a reduction in carbohydrate intake (or [[Glycogen]] depletion) will shift the lactate curve to the right<ref name="Reilly-1999"/><ref name="Yoshida-1984"/><ref name="Maassen-1989"/><ref name="McLellan-1989"/>.
 
* Because lactate is produced from the metabolism of carbohydrate, a reduction in carbohydrate intake (or [[Glycogen]] depletion) will shift the lactate curve to the right<ref name="Reilly-1999"/><ref name="Yoshida-1984"/><ref name="Maassen-1989"/><ref name="McLellan-1989"/>.
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<ref name="Kilding-2005">AE. Kilding, AM. Jones, Validity of a single-visit protocol to estimate the maximum lactate steady state., Med Sci Sports Exerc, volume 37, issue 10, pages 1734-40, Oct 2005, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16260974 16260974]</ref>
 
<ref name="Kilding-2005">AE. Kilding, AM. Jones, Validity of a single-visit protocol to estimate the maximum lactate steady state., Med Sci Sports Exerc, volume 37, issue 10, pages 1734-40, Oct 2005, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16260974 16260974]</ref>
 
<ref name="Harnish-2001">CR. Harnish, TC. Swensen, RR. Pate, Methods for estimating the maximal lactate steady state in trained cyclists., Med Sci Sports Exerc, volume 33, issue 6, pages 1052-5, Jun 2001, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11404673 11404673]</ref>
 
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<ref name="Palmer-1999">AS. Palmer, JA. Potteiger, KL. Nau, RJ. Tong, A 1-day maximal lactate steady-state assessment protocol for trained runners., Med Sci Sports Exerc, volume 31, issue 9, pages 1336-41, Sep 1999, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10487377 10487377]</ref>
+
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<ref name="Beneke-2003">R. Beneke, Methodological aspects of maximal lactate steady state-implications for performance testing., Eur J Appl Physiol, volume 89, issue 1, pages 95-9, Mar 2003, doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00421-002-0783-1 10.1007/s00421-002-0783-1], PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12627312 12627312]</ref>
 
<ref name="Beneke-2003">R. Beneke, Methodological aspects of maximal lactate steady state-implications for performance testing., Eur J Appl Physiol, volume 89, issue 1, pages 95-9, Mar 2003, doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00421-002-0783-1 10.1007/s00421-002-0783-1], PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12627312 12627312]</ref>
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<ref name="Foxdal-1996">P. Foxdal, A. Sjödin, B. Sjödin, Comparison of blood lactate concentrations obtained during incremental and constant intensity exercise., Int J Sports Med, volume 17, issue 5, pages 360-5, Jul 1996, doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-972861 10.1055/s-2007-972861], PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8858408 8858408]</ref>
 
<ref name="Foxdal-1996">P. Foxdal, A. Sjödin, B. Sjödin, Comparison of blood lactate concentrations obtained during incremental and constant intensity exercise., Int J Sports Med, volume 17, issue 5, pages 360-5, Jul 1996, doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-972861 10.1055/s-2007-972861], PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8858408 8858408]</ref>
 
<ref name="HeadHolman2015">Megan L. Head, Luke Holman, Rob Lanfear, Andrew T. Kahn, Michael D. Jennions, The Extent and Consequences of P-Hacking in Science, PLOS Biology, volume 13, issue 3, 2015, pages e1002106, ISSN [http://www.worldcat.org/issn/1545-7885 1545-7885], doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002106 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002106]</ref>
 
<ref name="HeadHolman2015">Megan L. Head, Luke Holman, Rob Lanfear, Andrew T. Kahn, Michael D. Jennions, The Extent and Consequences of P-Hacking in Science, PLOS Biology, volume 13, issue 3, 2015, pages e1002106, ISSN [http://www.worldcat.org/issn/1545-7885 1545-7885], doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002106 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002106]</ref>
<ref name="Palmer-1999">GS. Palmer, LB. Borghouts, TD. Noakes, JA. Hawley, Metabolic and performance responses to constant-load vs. variable-intensity exercise in trained cyclists., J Appl Physiol (1985), volume 87, issue 3, pages 1186-96, Sep 1999, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10484594 10484594]</ref>
+
<ref name="Palmer-1999-perform">GS. Palmer, LB. Borghouts, TD. Noakes, JA. Hawley, Metabolic and performance responses to constant-load vs. variable-intensity exercise in trained cyclists., J Appl Physiol (1985), volume 87, issue 3, pages 1186-96, Sep 1999, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10484594 10484594]</ref>
 
<ref name="Jones-2000">AM. Jones, H. Carter, The effect of endurance training on parameters of aerobic fitness., Sports Med, volume 29, issue 6, pages 373-86, Jun 2000, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10870864 10870864]</ref>
 
<ref name="Jones-2000">AM. Jones, H. Carter, The effect of endurance training on parameters of aerobic fitness., Sports Med, volume 29, issue 6, pages 373-86, Jun 2000, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10870864 10870864]</ref>
 
<ref name="Donovan-1983">CM. Donovan, GA. Brooks, Endurance training affects lactate clearance, not lactate production., Am J Physiol, volume 244, issue 1, pages E83-92, Jan 1983, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6401405 6401405]</ref>
 
<ref name="Donovan-1983">CM. Donovan, GA. Brooks, Endurance training affects lactate clearance, not lactate production., Am J Physiol, volume 244, issue 1, pages E83-92, Jan 1983, PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6401405 6401405]</ref>
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<ref name="Davis-2007">JA. Davis, R. Rozenek, DM. DeCicco, MT. Carizzi, PH. Pham, Comparison of three methods for detection of the lactate threshold., Clin Physiol Funct Imaging, volume 27, issue 6, pages 381-4, Nov 2007, doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-097X.2007.00762.x 10.1111/j.1475-097X.2007.00762.x], PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17944661 17944661]</ref>
 
<ref name="Davis-2007">JA. Davis, R. Rozenek, DM. DeCicco, MT. Carizzi, PH. Pham, Comparison of three methods for detection of the lactate threshold., Clin Physiol Funct Imaging, volume 27, issue 6, pages 381-4, Nov 2007, doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-097X.2007.00762.x 10.1111/j.1475-097X.2007.00762.x], PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17944661 17944661]</ref>
 
<ref name="Snyder-2009">AC. Snyder, MA. Parmenter, Using near-infrared spectroscopy to determine maximal steady state exercise intensity., J Strength Cond Res, volume 23, issue 6, pages 1833-40, Sep 2009, doi [http://dx.doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181ad3362 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181ad3362], PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19675475 19675475]</ref>
 
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</references>
 
</references>

Latest revision as of 10:54, 8 April 2020

Lactate Threshold is a key component of running performance and is a better predictor of race performance than V̇O2max. You can think of Lactate Threshold as reflecting a change from aerobic exercise to anaerobic exercise. Lactate Threshold is often used to determine the correct pace for Tempo Runs, though the science shows such training is ineffective. However, Lactate Threshold provides an excellent way of monitoring the effectiveness of your training and provides an objective estimate of your race pace. Unfortunately, measuring an athlete's Lactate Threshold is time-consuming and expensive, with the gold standard MLSS test requiring three to five 30 minute tests on separate days. All other approaches to measuring an athlete's Lactate Threshold seem deeply flawed. A better approach to your anaerobic threshold is Critical Power.

1 What is Lactate?

Main article: Lactate

At one time, athletes viewed Lactate as a harmful waste product of anaerobic exercise, but research since the early 2000s has shown that Lactate is an intermediate fuel in the metabolism of carbohydrates. Muscles will burn Lactate in preference to Glucose and will convert Lactate back to Glucose at rest. The level of Lactate in the blood primarily depends on exercise intensity, rather like Heart Rate. Lactate is a fuel source for working muscles, and injecting extra lactate into the blood results in increased lactate metabolism and carbohydrate sparing[1] without impairing performance[2]. Note that Lactate forms Lactic Acid in the blood, and literature uses the terms interchangeably.

2 What is the Lactate Threshold?

The Lactate Threshold (LT) is the point at which the lactate level in your blood will rise even if you keep the work intensity constant. This can be referred to as the Anaerobic Threshold (AT), or the Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA), though the most accurate term is Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS). Even within the scientific community terminology is confusing[3]. It is sometimes claimed that the MLSS represents the maximum clearance of Lactate, but this may not be the case[2]. Note that you normally measure Lactate in the bloodstream, so the Lactate level reflects the net of the muscles releasing and absorbing Lactate. Lactate Threshold is important as it is an excellent good predictor of race performance[4][5][6][7][8][9], and may be a better predictor than V̇O2max[10]. You can think of Lactate Threshold as the percentage of VO2max that you can maintain for a protracted time[11]. (It's not clear what the limiting factor is for exercise above the Lactate Threshold[12].)

3 Lactate Threshold Training

Main article: Tempo Runs

There is good evidence that endurance training changes Lactate Threshold. However, the idea that training at threshold intensity, such as Tempo Runs, is particularly effective has no evidence[13]"/>[14], and polarized training is a better approach[15][16]. For trained athletes, Tempo runs are ineffective[17] and may be counterproductive[18][14]. See Tempo Runs for more details. Detraining will reduce your Lactate Threshold[19], and your Lactate levels can be higher at a given intensity after just a few days without training[20], suggesting rapid detraining effects. The improvements in Lactate Threshold pace are largely because of a greater rate of Lactate removal rather than a reduced rate of production[21][22][23][24][25].

4 The Usefulness of Lactate Threshold

One of the primary goals of Lactate Threshold testing has been to determine the correct pace for Tempo Runs. However, even if Tempo training is ineffective, there are two good reasons for knowing your Lactate Threshold. First, monitoring your Lactate Threshold is great for evaluating the effectiveness of a training regime. Second, Lactate Threshold can validate race pace goals. If your Lactate Threshold indicates a much faster race pace than you've been able to achieve, it suggests either a lack of resistance to muscular damage or a lack of mental fortitude. If the Lactate Threshold suggests a race pace that is slower than your target goal, it suggests your goal is wrong and you should aim for a slower finish time. This is especially important in the marathon where hitting the wall is a common issue.

5 Lactate Curve

It is common to plot exercise intensity against the lactate level to produce a blood lactate curve similar to the one below, showing an exponential rise in lactate level with intensity. It's generally accepted that a shift of the curve to the right shows an improved athletic performance[26][27], and training can improve performance because of this shift without a change in aerobic capacity (V̇O2max)[28]. There is some limited evidence from radio-isotope studies in animals that a benefit of endurance training may be in Lactate clearance[24]. Above the Lactate Threshold, the Lactate level is not at a steady-state but rises even though the intensity remains constant, so the typical curve shown below is rather misleading. Some Lactate Curves are plotting Blood Lactate against time during an Incremental Power Test (see below), which is more reasonable but is still misleading.

A blood lactate curve with lactate level plotted against intensity. Note that above the Lactate Threshold there is no fixed relationship between Lactate and work intensity, so the curve is misleading at best.

6 Determining Your Lactate Threshold

There are various ways of determining the Lactate Threshold, each with their problems.

  • Critical Power. A better alternative is to ignore Lactate and focus on power output. With Stryd this can be applied to running, though Critical Power tests for runners may have a higher risk for injury. Before Stryd, the approach was to use "Critical Speed" on level ground. See Critical Power for details.
  • MLSS. The gold standard test for Lactate Threshold (and the only one that appears to be valid) is to measure Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS). The test requires 3 to 5 constant intensity trials of at least 30 minutes' duration, each performed on separate days. Each test is at a different exercise intensity, and the highest intensity that does not have a rise in blood lactate in the last 20 minutes is the MLSS. While this is the best way of determining the Lactate threshold, it's time-consuming and interferes with the athlete's regular training. Even though MLSS is the best approach to determining the Lactate Threshold, there are issues with MLSS and Critical Power is probably a better approach.
  • Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation. A simple approach is to assume that the Lactate Threshold always occurs at the same Lactate level. Sadly, this assumption is wrong, as Lactate Threshold can occur at vastly different levels.
  • Lactate Patterns. Some approaches look at the pattern of change in Lactate in an attempt to create a simple test. So far, I've seen little evidence to support any of these approaches.
  • Heart Rate Deflection. An indirect way of finding the Lactate Threshold is to look for the Heart Rate Deflection, sometimes called the "Conconi test". This test only requires a heart rate monitor to perform rather than blood draws, so it is much easier than the above approaches. However, the validity of the Conconi test has many issues and seems of dubious value[29]. See Heart Rate Deflection for details.
  • Respiratory gasses. Another method for estimating Lactate Threshold is to measure the respiratory gasses[3][30], but given this is impractical for most athletes, it's not covered here.

6.1 Lactate Threshold & Maximal Lactate Steady State

The best approach to determine an athlete's Lactate Threshold is to measure the Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS)[31]. The test is several constant load trials of at least 30 minutes' duration on different days at various exercise intensities (between 50–90% V̇O2max. The highest workload that results in an increase of less than 1 mmol/L of lactate between the 10 and 30 minute mark defines the MLSS[32][33][34]. Lactate is typically measured using a blood sample, either using a pinprick or a catheter. Note that MLSS for an individual will vary by sport[35], probably based on the mass of muscle engaged[36][37]. The difficulty of performing this test makes it impractical in most situations. Researchers have raised concerns that even when performed correctly, there are issues with MLSS and suggest that Critical Power is a better approach[38]. The primary issue is that MLSS doesn't truly represent the upper limit of aerobic capacity.

Blood lactate levels plotted against time at different workloads. The lower lines are at lower intensities, with the line marked MLSS being the highest intensity that produces stable lactate levels.

6.2 Lactate Threshold & Incremental Power Test

A common approach to determine the Lactate Threshold is the Incremental Power Test. The subject exercises in stages of increasing intensity, with lactate measured at the end of each stage, with stages typically lasting 3 to 10 minutes. However, blood lactate takes 20-30 minutes to stabilize for an intensity[4]. This means that the incremental power test is of limited value[39], with 3 minute stages giving low reproducibility[40], the stage length changing the lactate values[31], and even longer stages lengths of 8 minutes having low reproducibility[41]. The lactate level can drop between the 4th and 12th minute of exercise at a constant intensity[42]. Some have suggested using the lactate value measured as a sign of the prior stage's intensity, as it takes over 3 minutes for lactate to stabilize[43], but this rather arbitrary approach might be a guideline[6]. For running, it is common to pause the exercise for 30 seconds to take a blood sample. These breaks only make a non-significant difference to the testing, though the slight difference tends to be greater at higher intensities[44].

6.3 Lactate Threshold & Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation

Because MLSS is time consuming and expensive, a shortcut is often used to estimate MLSS by assuming that it occurs at a fixed Lactate Level (Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation, or FBLA)[33], unusually 4.0 mmol/l[45] though sometimes 3.5 mmol/l[46][47]. However, while the MLSS may average around 4.0 mmol/l[47], there are significant differences for individuals[48], with variations between 3.0 and 5.5 in small sample sizes[45] and has been shown to have a range as wide as 2.0 to 10.0 mmol/l[31][49]. This approach also typically uses a blood test, but in some sports (like running), the athlete has to pause to have a pinprick blood sample taken, further confusing the test[45]. The term "Individual Anaerobic Threshold" (IAT) has been used to emphasize that the Lactate Threshold is specific to each individual rather than using a Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation, though this can refer to a specific protocol for estimating MLSS[49]. The Fixed Blood Lactate Accumulation is sometimes called "Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation" (OBLA)[48], a particularly misleading term in this context.

6.4 Lactate Threshold Estimation From Lactate Patterns

There have been several approaches to determining MLSS without the difficulty of the full protocol[50][51][52][53][32], but their validity is limited[54][33][55][56]. These approaches generally look for some pattern in the change of Lactate level.

  • For example, one approach called the "Lactate Minimum Speed Test" (LMST) uses an initial sprint to elevate blood lactate followed by an incremental power test[57][58][59]. However, the effectiveness of the LMST is profoundly impacted by the starting speed of the incremental portion of the test[60]and so the results may be coincidence[61]. This is not entirely surprising given the initial sprint phase disrupts the metabolism[61].
  • Some trivial approaches have been tried, such as looking for a 1 mmol/l increase followed by another 1 mmol/l increase[62]. So for an athlete performing an incremental load test with Lactate readings of 1.7, 2.3, 2.6, 3.7, & 5.6 the conclusion would be their Lactate Threshold is 3.7 (3.7 is over 1.0 over 2.6 and followed by another increment of over 1.0.) However, given that most portable Lactate meters have a Typical Error of 0.4-1.0 mmol/l[63], a fractional error in the reading gives a different result. In the previous example, if the 2.6 reading was 2.8, then the Lactate Threshold would jump from 3.7 to 5.6.
  • Part of the problem with these approaches may be that MLSS may not represent the point of maximum lactate clearance[37], as injecting additional lactate into the blood of athletes exercising above MLSS did not significantly increase lactate levels[2].
  • Some of the tests could be "p-hacking", where the study looks at a sufficiently large number of variables that some correlation occurs randomly[64].
The correlation (or lack thereof) between MLSS and the lactate levels at the MLSS intensity seen during 3 or 5 minute incremental power tests[45].
  • One approach that looks promising uses three tests to estimate MLSS[65]. First, a standard incremental test is used to give a rough estimate of MLSS. Then two 30 minute tests are performed, one above and one below the rough estimate of MLSS. The relative difference in the rise between the two tests is then used to estimate the crossover point. For instance, assume running at 7:00 min/mile produced a blood lactate level that fell from 4 mmol/l at 5 min to 3 mmol/l at 20 min, a 1 mmol/l drop. Then a run at In the run at 6:20 min/mile the blood lactate rose from 4.0 mmol/l at 5 min to 6.5 mmol/l at 20 min, a 1.5 mmol/l rise. The interception point would then be about an MLSS pace of 6:26 min/mile. This is not much less effort than the full MLSS test, but it is an improvement.

6.5 Lactate Threshold and Near-Infrared Spectroscopy

A promising technology for measuring Lactate Threshold is Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) which shines infrared light into the skin above an active muscle and measures the reflected light. NIRS measures the oxygen saturation in the capillaries of the muscle and has the potential to test for Lactate Threshold with no blood sampling. Because NIRS can monitor continually, it may be able to determine the Lactate Threshold during an incremental test rather than requiring the multiple tests of MLSS.

6.5.1 Introduction to NIRS and SmO2

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been shown to measure the oxygen saturation of blood in muscle (SmO2) or other body tissues (StO2)[66][67][68]. (This works on similar principles to a Pulse Oximeter.) Medical NIRS systems for monitoring StO2 use Infrared LED or Lasers at 2, 3, or 4 frequencies[69]. SmO2 reflects the balance of oxygen delivery and consumption during exercise[70]. There are some initial indications that relative SmO2 may reflect changes in performance capacity[71]. There is generally a four-phase response of smo2 during incremental exercise from rest to maximum intensity and the following recovery[72]:

  1. An initial increase in SmO2 above resting levels to supply the now active muscles. (This may be due to increased blood flow[73], but computer models do not support this[74].)
  2. SmO2 decreases linearly or exponentially with increasing intensity, followed by a leveling off as the subject approaches maximum intensity. There is some evidence of a breakpoint where the rate of decline increases (see below).
  3. During the first 1-2 minutes of recovery, there is a rapid increase in SmO2 which usually exceeds resting levels.
  4. SmO2 then declines to resting levels over a further few minutes.

Skin should not impact SmO2 readings more than 5%[75], but surface fat can interfere with smo2[76][77][78][79]. Because the penetration depth of NIRS is about 50-60% of the distance between the emitter and receiver, the site must be selected so that the fat layer is much thinner than this depth[80]. (It's been suggested that SmO2 is probably only viable in lean individuals.)

6.5.2 SmO2 Breakpoint

As the intensity increases during incremental exercise SmO2 will remain constant or decline, with the rate of decline being greater near the Lactate Threshold[72][80][81]. This has led to several studies using the concept of an SmO2 "breakpoint"[82]. This breakpoint is a change in the slope of the line plotting SmO2 against work intensity in an incremental intensity test. This increase in the rate of desaturation can either be visually determined or based on bilinear regression. (The bilinear regression iterates over different combinations of two regression lines to find the lowest sum of squares of the residuals. I could not find the details of the constraints placed on this approach.)

A graph showing the SmO2 breakpoint.

Another approach used by[83] was defined as the workload immediately before a drop of 15% that lead to a continuous decline in SmO2. This is shown in the image below, showing a recording with and without a defined breakpoint.

SmO2 Breakpoints With-Without.jpg

6.5.3 SmO2 and Lactate Threshold

Several studies have looked at the relationship between SmO2 and Lactate or Lactate Threshold

  • A study of five mountain climbers found a relationship between the "point of inflection of lactate" and the SmO2 breakpoint during an incremental cycling test[82]. The definition they were using for the inflection of lactate was a blood lactate reading that is more than 0.5 below the subsequent value, with typical lactate levels below 2 mmol/l. This is closer to the "aerobic threshold" concept than the typical Lactate Threshold. The study did not find any correlation between the SmO2 breakpoint and the 4 mmol/L blood lactate level. The breakpoint was determined from bi-linear regression.
  • A study of 40 sedentary undergraduates showed a correlation between SmO2 returning to resting levels and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) in 65% of subjects during an incremental cycling test[73]. While the text refers to Lactate Threshold as the point at which Lactate rises above resting levels (aerobic threshold) the method used to determine VT appears to be the anaerobic threshold. This study did not use the breakpoint mentioned above, but the point where the SmO2 drops below the level detected at rest.
  • A study of 11 subjects of varying fitness levels showed a correlation between SmO2 breakpoint determined visually and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) during an incremental cycling test[72].
  • A comparison between 12 healthy subjects and 7 suffering from chronic heart failure (CHF) showed a correlation between the SmO2 breakpoint and Ventilatory Threshold (VT) during an incremental cycling test[84].
  • A 2012 study compared the results from NIRS on the calf (Gastrocnemius Lateralis) and quads (Vastus Lateralis) in 31 active but not highly trained college students during an incremental cycling test[85]. The study found a correlation between Lactate Threshold (determined from the log-log method[86]) and the SmO2 breakpoint (determined from bi-linear regression) in both locations, but the quads corresponded better. (I suspect the results from running could be quite different.)
  • A 2009 study used MLSS (the gold standard for Lactate Threshold) with running to test NIRS[83]. The 16 athletes performed between 2 and 5 tests of 30 minutes each to determine MLSS, separated by at least 48 hours each. The subjects then performed an incremental treadmill test using 6-minute stages with the 4th stage at the pace they estimated they could maintain for an hour (around Lactate Threshold). The first 3 stages where then 0.66, 0.44, & 0.22 meter/second slower, and the subsequent stages were 0.22 meters/second faster each time. SmO2 breakpoint was defined as the workload immediately before a drop of 15% that lead to a continuous decline in SmO2. A Lactate breakpoint was also determined based on the incremental test using the workload before an increase of 1 mmol/l as the criteria. Both the SmO2 and the Lactate breakpoint were determined visually. Of the 16 subjects, 1 did not reach MLSS, 2 did not have both a SmO2 breakpoint or a Lactate breakpoint (based on the criteria used) and 1 had neither. The study found that SmO2 is as effective as Lactate breakpoint tests for determining true Lactate Threshold (MLSS). The table below shows the values for each of 12 subjects, with the paces shown as KPH, then min/mile, then the error as a percentage. This shows that while smo2 is as good as the lactate breakpoint, the individual differences from MLSS are not insignificant. For instance, subject 5 had an MLSS of 6:21, but an SmO2 breakpoint of 6:57 and a lactate breakpoint of 6:59, which is a big difference.
Subject MLSS SmO2 Lb MLSS SmO2 Lb SmO2 err Lb err
1 13.5 12.9 13.7 7:09 7:29 7:03 4.4% -1.5%
2 14.3 14.2 13.4 6:45 6:48 7:12 0.7% 6.3%
3 9 9.5 9.5 10:44 10:10 10:10 -5.6% -5.6%
4 13.4 12.9 12.9 7:12 7:29 7:29 3.7% 3.7%
5 15.2 13.9 13.8 6:21 6:57 6:59 8.6% 9.2%
6 12.9 12.7 13.5 7:29 7:36 7:09 1.6% -4.7%
7 15.4 14.5 15.3 6:16 6:40 6:19 5.8% 0.6%
8 11.5 11.7 10.9 8:24 8:15 8:52 -1.7% 5.2%
9 10.8 10.9 10.8 8:56 8:52 8:56 -0.9% 0.0%
10 14.2 14.2 13.2 6:48 6:48 7:19 0.0% 7.0%
11 11.6 12.2 12.2 8:19 7:55 7:55 -5.2% -5.2%
12 14.8 14.6 13.8 6:31 6:37 6:59 1.4% 6.8%
Mean 13.05 12.85 12.75
SD 1.88 1.51 1.55

6.5.4 SmO2 and MLSS

Sadly, there does not appear to be a difference in SmO2 during an MLSS test above and below the MLSS threshold pace[83]. If running above the MLSS threshold pace does not result in a drop in smo2, then the ability to use SmO2 for finding threshold seems rather dubious.

A graph of lactate and SmO2 above and below the MLSS threshold.

6.5.5 Thoughts on SmO2 and Lactate Threshold

I think the available research shows that NIRS and SmO2 might hold promise for simplifying the measurement of Lactate Threshold. However, the research is at a fairly early stage, with only one study using the gold standard of MLSS, and the results are mixed at best. In some ways, I feel the MLSS test above shows that SmO2 is a poor option for evaluating an athlete's Lactate Threshold, but perhaps most existing approaches other than a full MLSS test are equally flawed. Currently, there are two consumer products available; BSX and Moxy. BSX is a fully automated approach to analyzing the data and estimating Lactate Threshold, whereas the Moxy is intended to provide the end-user with the underlying data to evaluate. (BSX is being discontinued.)

7 Factors That May Influence An Athlete's Lactate Threshold

There are a few factors that may change the Lactate Threshold (other than training)

  • Because lactate is produced from the metabolism of carbohydrate, a reduction in carbohydrate intake (or Glycogen depletion) will shift the lactate curve to the right[87][88][89][90].
  • It's not clear if Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness changes the lactate curve as there are reports that it does[91] and reports that it does not[92].
  • Lactate Threshold will vary by sport, probably based on the mass of muscle engaged[36], or because the inactive muscles consume more lactate as the concentration rises[43]. MLSS may also vary with environmental conditions, with a lower lactate levels at MLSS in hotter conditions[93].

8 Aerobic Threshold

There is a related concept called "Aerobic Threshold" that is generally used to mean the exercise intensity at which Lactate levels rise above resting baselines[31]. This threshold is believed to be the upper limit of nearly exclusive use of aerobic metabolism that can be sustained for many hours. Intensities just above the aerobic threshold can be maintained for prolonged periods (~4 hours)[94]. This aerobic threshold can be hard to determine in untrained subjects as it occurs at very low intensities[95]. Unfortunately, the term "Lactate Threshold" is sometimes used to mean this point where lactate rises above resting levels[88].

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