Lactate and Cyclists – Reduce Production or Increase Utilization?

    Saturday, August 20 2016

    How lactate really works

    When your body breaks down glucose for energy a by product of the process is lactate. During easy exercise efforts, your body recycles lactate back into energy.  At some point in increasing intensity or training duration the recycling does not keep up with production.

    photo Daniel W Paisley

    photo Daniel W Paisley

    Hydrogen ions are the real culprit

    The cause of your muscle fatigue is actually the result of a buildup of hydrogen ions. For each lactate molecule produced one hydrogen ion is also formed. Hydrogen ions lower blood pH (1), turns off enzymes used to produce energy and may interfere with the uptake of calcium. As a result, your muscles’ ability to contract is reduced and you’re forced to slow.(2)

    Recent research indicates that the goal of endurance training should not necessarily be to reduce the production of lactic acid but to improve the ability to clear lactate from the blood. We shift from the idea of increasing our tolerance for lactate to the idea of increasing how efficiently our body utilizes lactate as an energy source.

    Active recovery is far more effective at helping your body clear lactate than stopping your movement altogether. One study showed that even doing core exercises was helpful so Pilates after cycling does more than strengthen your core.(3)

    How to Train to Improve Lactate Clearance

    Traditional tempo distance, tempo intervals, and cruise intervals help increase your body’s ability to clear or reconvert lactate. Here are two specific workout designs to focus on improving your lactate clearance.

    Lactate Clearance Interval Ride

    The goal is to spike lactic acid production with a hard interval and then train your body to efficiently process the lactate while you sustain a reasonable effort for the next interval.(1)

    Here is a workout example for someone who has been training, developed a good base, has tested for their Thresholds and set all 5 Heart Zones.* Refer to Heart Zones Training and Cycling Fusion for more information on Threshold Zone Training.

    The design is to increase the first interval intensity while reducing it’s duration and increase the second interval intensity AND duration every 1-2 weeks. It looks like this (P.S. this will feel challenging, it’s supposed to!)

    • Warm up then do 3 sets
    • 10 minutes in Mid Z4, 2 minute recovery in Low Z3, 3 minutes High Z4 (up to T2), recover 4 minutes Z2.  Repeat 2 more times.

    Lactate Clearance Tempo Ride

    This is a continuous ride. Do the first half of the ride at your tested MSP (Maximum Sustainable Power)* for a given duration then ease back for the second half to a sustainable training intensity that is 5 BPM or 20 Watts lower than MSP. Early in the season you may find the second tempo needs to be 10 BPM or 40 Watts lower than MSP until your body adapts.(2)

    1 Adapted from

    2 Adapted from


    * Refer to Heart Zones Training and Cycling Fusion for more information on Threshold Zone Training.

    Dorothy Sager is a Certified Master Heart Zones Trainer, ACSM HFI and Personal Trainer.  She is a Health Coach in Seattle WA.  To contact Dorothy go to

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