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The relationship between lactic acid and work load: a measure for endurance capacity or an indicator of carbohydrate deficiency?

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The influence of low and high carbohydrate diets on the relationship between blood lactate concentration ([Lac]) and work load (WL) in incremental exercise tests (cycle ergometer) and endurance tests was evaluated in trained subjects. The relationship between relative work load (WLrel) and [Lac] in arterialized blood was compared in untrained subjects (UT) and trained male athletes (TR) after 2 days without training while consuming a high carbohydrate diet (HCD). In both groups [Lac] of 2 mmol·l−1 was reached at about 60% [(mean±SD) UT 57.7%±6%, TR 62.7%±3.8%] and 4 mmol·l−1 at about 75% (UT 75.2%±3.6%, TR 77.8±2.2) of the maximal work load (WLmax). In eight cyclists the relationship between [Lac] and WL was not influenced by a 13-day training camp; however, heart rate was lower after the training camp. During their normal training programme, trained subjects had high relative work loads at their [Lac] thresholds, but after an HCD combined with an interruption of the training of 3 days, the relationship between [Lac] and WLrel was the same as in UT. In six TR a low carbohydrate diet (LCD) combined with training led to high absolute (WLabs) and WLrel at [Lac] of 2 and 4 mmol·l−1; an HCD combined with 3 days without training led to low WLabs and WLrel at the same [Lac] and to higher WLmax. In spite of the apparently lower endurance capacities TR were able to work significantly longer after HCD than after LCD (23±10.5 min and 49±16.2 min, respectively) at 65% of their WLmax. The variability of the relationship between [Lac] and WL following the dietary regimes leads to the conclusion that the “typical” [Lac] versus WL curve of endurance TR may result from a permanent glycogen deficiency.

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Maassen, N., Busse, M.W. The relationship between lactic acid and work load: a measure for endurance capacity or an indicator of carbohydrate deficiency?. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 58, 728–737 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00637384

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Key words

  • Diet
  • Endurance capacity
  • Glycogen
  • Lactate
  • Threshold