DIARY: Lactate truths with UCD

I’m preparing a big article for ChampionsEverywhere on UCD Sports and Performance, but wanted to begin parts of today while my two tests with them are in fresh memory. So below is my experience with the nutritional consultant at UCD and my lactate/VO2max test with Romain Denis, their exercise physiologist.

On Wednesday evening, after completing the fartlek session with the lads, I went to meet Marianne Walsh, a PhD in nutrition with whom I had booked a consultation after sending her a number of food logs. My goal is to return to around the 5% fat that served me so well in the 2008 season but I want to do it in a controlled manner without impact on immune system, testosterone levels, energy or bone density and muscular health.

Nutritional overview

We talked for two hours and I got some informed opinions on various topics such as running glycogen depleted, what research says about vitamin overdosing, a review of Orbana Healthy Energy (thumbs up, more details later) from her side, individual genetics and biochemistry and their effect on food tolerance and reaction and finally what evolutionary adaptations to modern foods have likely occurred in Western European population groups.

The main conversation was about me, of course, (hooray!), and my diet. Marianne’s general points were these:

  • My diet provides a good balance between acid and alkaline foods
  • My macronutrient split is slightly unbalanced: 45% carbohydrate, 14.5% protein and 40.5% fat (mainly unsaturated).
  • My diet provides a surplus of all essential nutrients even before counting supplementation with one exception:
  • My diet is just a bit on the low side on Vitamin D which can be corrected with a cod liver oil supplement or more fish intake
  • My energy requirement without training is 2300kcal
  • My estimated daily energy requirement is 2850-2950kcal counting training. Longer after very long/intense sessions
  • My estimated energy intake for the two days was 2897kcal

It seems pretty amazing that I used just what I ate but Marianne was not surprised as well-trained individuals generally display remarkable accurate craving sensations so when we “eat as we feel”, we are generally right, whereas in inactive people, especially those who are obese, these instincts are all over the place. The main take-away from the above is that I need to reshift my macronutrient intake slightly so that carbohydrate intake is at least 50%, protein moves up to 20% and fat down to 30%. My inclusion of a protein shake daily may already have helped here as my recovery has been much improved the last two weeks.

Generally my weight has been stable over the last year but has reduced from 69.5kg with 9.9% fat (in November on resuming training) to 68.4kg with 8.8% fat this Sunday. Marianne recommended my best strategy was to reduce only by 200-300kcal per day, due to my already low weight, and that the best targets were dried fruit (raisins) and slightly reducing my intake of nuts. Another obvious target was the soup I always have with my main course. As I get enough vegetables, Marianne reckons there is no harm taking this out whereas it would not be recommended for someone with a nutrient poor diet.

Because of my already low weight, she recommended doing the DXA scan with the performance laboratory to measure my precise body composition and bone health. She had me at “scan”, of course, so I will have to look into that. In the meantime, it may mean I will stop pestering Romain to allow me to do their new non-invasive muscle biopsy. I am curious to prove/disprove my theory that I have a very high predominance of Type 1 fibres.

Lactate/VO2max test

This test essentially gives you an indication of two things:your oxygen uptake at your current highest running speed, which gives a rough indication of what your absolute oxygen uptake may be, and your efficiency at burning fat at all exercise intensities.

Essentially, as more and more carbohydrates are required to maintain a given speed, the greater lactate concentrations show up in your bloodstream. I will invite the reader to read the explanation on page 160 in “Lore of Running” as it is very technical to explain without having a nice slide-show (I’m working on it!).

The reason the test is useful is that the lactate readings provide a strong indicator of “how expensive” it is for me to run at, say, 15kph, 16kph and so on. I won’t get my full results until next week but I was very pleased with the test. When I jumped off the treadmill, panting like a choked man, I had left very little out there. My legs had once again been the limiting factor, however, as I always feel there is more in the “engine” than the legs can power up to match.

It must have been a strange sight: a runner wearing nothing but a pair of red racing shorts and Nike LunarRacers with a blue oxygen mask running his guts out on a huge treadmill while a big white fan, next to two open windows, blows cold air against him on a temperate winter day. Intermittently, a scientist asks him to jump off the side only to prick him in the finger with a needle, draw blood, increase the pace and ask him to jump back on. Insanity indeed!

I expected to see a worse results than last year due to the limited amount of training in 2011: it may have been my worst year in terms of mileage. Yet, Romain straight away began shouting encouragement and telling me “looking strong”, “you’ve improved” as well as motivating me: Jason had had a great test here earlier, and Romain was egging me on to “beat his times”.


Eventually, I measured out a relative VO2max of 60 compared to 58.3 last time with an absolute VO2max of 4.17l/min. That latter is quite low compared to earlier tests where I have taken in as much as 4.5l/min which seems to confirm my theory that currently my engine is much stronger than my “chassis” so I simply cannot max out my heart and respiratory system. Other systems fail first.

The terms lactate threshold and lactate turnpoint have come to mean quite different things in the last years, but UCD use “lactate threshold” as the point you see the first noticeable climb in lactate which really means moving from “easy” to “moderate”. So lactate threshold is the beginning of what Lydiard calls “steady state” in this case. They use “lactate turnpoint” for the next major shift upwards, so this marks the end of the “steady state". During the last test this put my steady state between 13kph and 15kph. After today’s test it has increased remarkably to 15kph to 17kph despite. There was improvement at my efficiency at 18, 19 and 20kph as well although only marginal at 20kph where I only last 20 seconds longer than last time. Still this is heartening given the almost complete lack of high intensity training over the last 12 months.

To me this confirms the incredible efficacy of running the aerobic phase the way Lydiard prescribes it, rather than just plodding along, once basic leg strength and running skill is achieved, the benefits are not only much more rapid but also very long-lasting. It’s a castle built on concrete rather than glass.

Based on the test Romain thinks my marathon potential is really closer to 2:40 but advised me not to get carried away as it depends on the training done over the next critical period. I am of the same mind and do not plan to revise my original 2:48-2:49 target for now. The best indication will be the half-marathon ahead of it in either case and so many factors play into a successful marathon performance that just because I have developed the energy efficiency to run at those paces for necessary duration, it does not guarantee anything. Leg strength, nutrition, conditions on the day and many other factors all need to be accounted for and dealt with optimally. But having the furnace in place is obviously a plus.

For the Ballycotton 10 mile, another long training run I have scheduled, this means that to run in the ideal training zone for my high aerobic adaptations, I will be somewhere between 15kph and 17kph for the race, meaning that a slow performance would be 64:24 and a fast 56:49. Given I have run the half-marathon at 3:52min/km pace, I should aim to break 62 minutes at least. If I am tired, so be it, but even if I put in 100km between Sunday and Friday, such a target should still be achievable. Breaking the hour would be a nice achievement, and clearly within my capabilities, but form on the day and my racing tactics will dictate whether I am successful. For now, plenty to look forward to. Saturday’s 75-minutes “Out and Back” which is run at the hardest aerobic intensities, should provide an excellent trial run.