Maximising Your Running Performance: Understanding the Science of Lactate Threshold and MLSS

Blood Lactate
Arj Thiruchelvam in the Sports Science Laboratory Solihull

As a runner, understanding the concept of lactate threshold is crucial for optimizing your performance. The lactate threshold is the point at which blood lactate begins to rapidly accumulate during exercise at increasing intensity. As speed increases, lactate concentrations also increase rapidly beyond a certain threshold velocity. This increase in lactate is disproportionate above resting values and reflects the to some degree an interaction of aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.

The lactate threshold is actually the point in time when the production of lactate exceeds clearance rates.

This threshold is expressed as a percentage of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2Max). The ability to exercise at high intensity without accumulating lactate is beneficial for athletes as it contributes to fatigue. The percentage of VO2Max that an athlete can maintain for a prolonged period is likely related to the lactate threshold.

The lactate threshold is also likely the major determinant of pace that can be tolerated during a long-term endurance event. Another important concept related to the lactate threshold is the maximal lactate steady state (MLSS). MLSS is the highest workload that can be maintained for a longer period of time without continued blood lactate accumulation. It is defined as the intensity at which the blood lactate concentration increases by no more than 1.0 mmol per litre during the final 20 minutes of a 30-minute constant intensity test.

In terms of training, the lactate threshold is often divided into two distinct thresholds: LT1 or the aerobic threshold and LT2 or maximal lactate steady state (MLSS). LT1 is used to demarcate zone 1 and 2 and is defined as the lowest intensity at which there is a sustained increase in blood lactate concentration above resting values. LT2, on the other hand, is used to demarcate zone 2 and 3 and is defined as the intensity that causes a rapid increase in blood lactate indicating the upper limit of equilibrium between lactate production and clearance.

In summary, the lactate threshold is a crucial concept for runners to understand as it is closely related to an athlete’s ability to perform at high intensity for prolonged periods of time. Understanding the concept of lactate threshold and related concepts such as maximal lactate steady state can help runners optimise their performance and reach their full potential.

Lactate Testing Protocols:

Method 1:

  1. Take a baseline blood lactate reading before starting the test.
  2. Perform a 10 minute slow and easy warm-up.
  3. Perform 5 x 1 mile runs with 1-2 minute rest periods.
  4. Start at an easy/moderate speed and increase speed by 15 seconds per mile.
  5. For example, for a person with an estimated threshold of 4:55-5:00, run at 5:35, 5:20, 5:05, 4:50 and 4:35 to give a lactate level for each speed.
  6. Record the blood lactate recording after every interval and in the 3 minutes post test.
  7. Plot the results on a speed vs lactate graph.

Method 2:

  1. Take a baseline blood lactate reading before starting the test.
  2. Warm up at an easy pace for 1200m.
  3. Take a second blood lactate reading.
  4. Run at a slightly elevated pace for 1200m.
  5. Take a third blood lactate reading.
  6. Run 1200m at a pace above that of the previous 1200.
  7. Take a fourth blood lactate reading.
  8. Run the final 1200m at a moderate to hard pace.
  9. Take a fifth blood lactate reading.
  10. Cool down with a 5-minute easy jog and measure blood lactate every 2-3 minutes during and after the cool down until levels are back to the baseline.

It is important to note that these protocols are a general guide and may need to be adjusted based on the individual’s fitness level and goals. It is recommended to consult with a running coach or sports scientist to properly interpret the results and make the necessary adjustments to your training program.

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