What every triathlete should know about lactate, calories, and gait, from the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Institute.
As seen on Ironman.com and written By Jennifer Ward-Barber
Here are the three most important tests Gandler recommends for new and aspiring IRONMAN athletes:
This basic test determines the exercise intensity at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood stream. Basically, it tells you when you stop burning fat as your main energy source and start using glycogen (aerobic versus anaerobic training). This is critical data for anyone who uses a heart rate monitor for training.
Taken during a test session where the intensity is progressively increased, the test reveals an individual’s lactate threshold (LT) and establishes baseline training zones based on his/her unique physiology. When an athlete exercises at or below the LT, any lactate produced by the muscles is removed by the body without it building up. (Results vary between individuals and can be increased with training.)
Gandler says this test helps athletes better understand how their bodies are responding to training and how to ensure optimal race-day performance: “Used mostly on the bike and the run, this data ensures that athletes understand their body and are training their aerobic system primarily—with a little of the anaerobic piece thrown in,” she says.
Data from this type of test also helps athletes plan their paces for race day. For example, if athletes know the heart rate range at which their muscles will begin to have trouble ridding themselves of lactate on the bike, they’ll be better set up for a strong run.
Nutrition and fueling
Gandler recommends learning more about individual needs for nutrition and fueling in three areas: training, daily nutrition and racing. One available test is the k-cal per hour determination. Used primarily in bike training, this data tells athletes how many calories they’re burning at each wattage and corresponding heart rate.
“When athletes are out there training for hours and hours, they need to know how much they need to be refueling so that their next workout is just as successful,” Gandler says. “With all that endurance work, it’s hard to maintain muscle if proper refueling isn’t happening.” (Note: Losing too much muscle during a training season puts IRONMAN athletes at a higher risk for injury.)
This information is also useful for calculating daily calorie intake, Gandler says, which must be enough to refuel the amount athletes burn in each workout. “It’s about not going too far into the hole,” she says. “This is a difficult thing to do in IRONMAN, because you have to eat so many calories a day to refuel your training.”
The last piece in the puzzle is race-day nutrition and fueling, which Gandler says a lot of new triathletes aren’t familiar enough with. The data gleaned from the above test can help athletes experiment to make more precise adjustments to their intake, whether it’s solids or liquids.
Every new triathlete’s arsenal should also contain a gait analysis, Gandler says. The institute conducts video analysis of the full body that goes beyond what’s typically available in a running store. Videos are then broken down into mechanics and experts can determine whether the athlete is wearing the right shoes, for example.
The information is used as an injury prevention tool: “We want to see athletes before they get up to the high mileage to make sure they’re doing all the right things to protect the main muscle groups,” Gandler says.
How often does an athlete need to undergo testing?
“It takes time to change what you learn about your body through data,” Gandler adds. “We give you all this information, you take it out and incorporate it into your training, and then check back in with us six months or a year later to see how things have changed.”