Everything You Must Know About Lactate
An In-Depth Guide for Endurance Runners
If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard the term “lactate” thrown around a lot in training and racing conversations. But what exactly is lactate, and how does it affect our bodies during exercise? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about lactate, from its basic properties to how it impacts your running performance.
What is Lactate?
Lactate, also known as lactic acid, is a chemical compound that is produced in the body during intense exercise. Specifically, it is produced when the body’s cells break down glucose for energy in the absence of oxygen, a process known as anaerobic metabolism.
Contrary to popular belief, lactate itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is an important energy source for the body and plays a key role in maintaining proper pH balance in the blood. The issue arises when lactate production outpaces lactate clearance, which can lead to the accumulation of lactate in the muscles and bloodstream and ultimately result in fatigue and reduced performance.
How is Lactate Measured?
Lactate can be measured through a simple blood test or via a lactate threshold test, which involves exercising at increasing intensities while monitoring blood lactate levels. The point at which blood lactate levels begin to rise exponentially is known as the lactate threshold, and it is a key indicator of an athlete’s endurance performance potential. By training at or near their lactate threshold, athletes can improve their lactate clearance ability and delay the onset of lactate accumulation and fatigue.
The Relationship Between Lactate and Running Performance
While lactate has long been associated with fatigue and reduced performance, recent research has shown that it is actually a much more nuanced relationship. In fact, lactate can be a valuable tool for endurance runners looking to optimize their training and racing performance.
The Lactate Threshold
As mentioned earlier, the lactate threshold is a key indicator of an athlete’s endurance performance potential. The higher an athlete’s lactate threshold, the longer they can sustain high-intensity exercise before fatigue sets in. Training at or near the lactate threshold can help improve an athlete’s lactate clearance ability, allowing them to maintain a higher pace for longer periods of time.
The Lactate Shuttle Hypothesis
The lactate shuttle hypothesis suggests that lactate can actually be used as a fuel source by the body, and that lactate produced in one part of the body can be transported and used as energy in another part of the body. This means that lactate produced by the muscles during exercise can be used as fuel by other muscles, providing a valuable energy source for endurance athletes.
Lactate and Recovery
While lactate has traditionally been viewed as a waste product that must be cleared from the body as quickly as possible, recent research has shown that lactate can play a key role in recovery. Specifically, lactate has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help to reduce muscle damage and soreness following exercise. In addition, lactate has been shown to increase the production of growth hormone, which is important for muscle repair and growth.
Training Strategies to Improve Lactate Clearance
So how can runners improve their lactate clearance ability and delay the onset of fatigue? Several training strategies can be effective:
Interval training involves alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of lower-intensity recovery. By pushing the body to the lactate threshold during the high-intensity intervals and allowing for recovery during the lower-intensity intervals, athletes can improve their lactate clearance ability and delay the onset of fatigue.
Tempo runs involve running at a sustained pace that is just below the lactate threshold. By training at this intensity, athletes can improve their lactate clearance ability and increase their lactate threshold.
Strength training can be an effective way to improve lactate clearance ability by increasing muscle mass and improving overall fitness. In addition, strength training can help to improve running economy, allowing athletes to maintain a higher pace for longer periods of time.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about lactate! While lactate has long been viewed as a negative byproduct of exercise, it is actually a valuable tool for endurance athletes looking to optimize their training and racing performance. By understanding the relationship between lactate and performance, and by implementing effective training strategies, athletes can improve their lactate clearance ability and delay the onset of fatigue, allowing them to reach their full potential as runners.