Friday, February 11, 2011

VO2 Max Testing

With some time off between jobs, I decided to indulge my curiosity and head to Seattle Performance Medicine (SPM) to have my VO2 max and lactate threshold tested. I had recently read Heidi Dietrich's report of her experience with the testing and being a scientist and a runner I couldn't resist getting tested myself. The test started with collecting baseline data. I was fitted with a mask and the air I was breathing out was measured for 15 minutes to analyze resting metabolism. Then I switched to the treadmill, keeping the mask on, for the VO2 max test which consisted of running at a slow pace (6 mph) as they gradually increased the incline. They will continue to increase the incline until you beg for mercy. At least hopefully they let you off at that point. At a 10% incline they also increased the speed to 6.4 mph which surprised me a bit. I am used to running uphill at slow speeds but I guess it made more sense not to draw the test out too long. I called it quits at a 15% incline. After a short break, it was time to get back on the treadmill and perform the lactate threshold test. This time the treadmill was held at a 1% incline and the speed was gradually increased and the test ended when they detected that I had crossed the lactate threshold which I think happened at a speed 9f 9.5 mph.

Analysis of the data collected showed that:

VO2max = 69 ml/kg/min
HRmax = 188 bpm
lactate threshold: HR = 176 bpm, %VO2max = 83%

The explanation provided was that these numbers were all good. I was surprised in particular that the lactate threshold occurred at 83% of VO2max which is a balanced ratio according to SPM. I would have expected a recommendation to try to increase the lactate threshold due to the preponderance of endurance training compared to interval training that I do, but according to SPM it is at the right place relative to VO2max.

The number that didn't make sense was that I reached the lactate threshold at a relatively slow pace. So despite the high number for VO2max, I was very inefficient in converting oxygen/aerobic energy into running speed.

An additional problem was identified from several of the tests. The resting metabolic test showed that I was burning excessive protein and that essentially my body was in a catabolic state. When I was running at low intensities, I was burning excessive fat relative to carbohydrate. Finally, although my maximum HR was good, my heart rate recovery was excessive (I didn't realize that could be bad!). All three of these results suggested that my muscles were depleted of carbohydrates.

Specific recommendations:

1) Increase post-workout carbohydrate fueling: 1.5 g carbohydrate/kg of body weight within 30 minutes of finishing workout, plus an additional 1.5 g carb/kg weight before 2 hours are up.
2) Perform a sprint lactate test to measure anaerobic capacity.
3) Perform blood tests for hormonal/nutritional markers.
4) Begin high intensity sprint and strength workouts to improve anaerobic system.

Final impressions:

I really decided to have the testing done on a whim and had not thought through what it would mean to get the results. The results really are just numbers. If you want to know how good a runner you are, do a few races and you will know where you stack up. But now that I have the numbers and the recommendations, I am very optimistic that I can use the results to significantly improve my training. I would not have realized I was under-fueling without the testing results. And my general approach to training has been to train more. I think the results of these tests suggest that adding more mileage is much less likely to be beneficial than will be increased strength and speed training. I would highly recommend the staff at Seattle Performance Medicine if you are interested in being tested. I will post a follow up in a few months with the results of the blood tests and my initial assessment of the sprint/strength workouts. Does anyone else have experience with this kind of testing that they are willing to share in the comments?

Links to other VO2 max testing reports:

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