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A Journal on Sports Medicine

Official Journal of the Italian Sports Medicine Federation
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Medicina dello Sport 1998 December;51(4):393-400


language: Italian

The concept of lactate threshold. A critical review

Di Prampero P. E. 1, Fusi S. 2, Antonutto G. 1

1 Dipartimento di Scienza e Tecnologie Biomediche, Università degli Studi, Udine; 2 Borsista F.I.D.A.L., Comitato Regionale Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trieste


The anaerobic threshold (AT) is a widely used tool for investigating aerobic performance characteristics in physiological or pathological conditions. The aim of the present paper is to show that, when the lactate concentration in blood ([Lab]) is constant in time, regardless of its absolute level, the whole body energy sources for muscular work are entirely aerobic. In fact, [Lab] can remain constant if, and only if, lactate production is equal to lactate removal. Since this last is an entirely aerobic process, it can be shown that the net anaerobic energy yield from lactate production is nil, even if some muscle fibres are indeed producing lactate at a non trivial rate. These conditions will be defined as “unevenly aerobic” to distinguish them from: (1 ) the traditional “evenly aerobic” ones, in which the net lactate production is also zero, but because neither lactate production nor lactate removal are significantly increased, and (2) “true anaerobic” conditions wherein lactate production exceeds lactate removal and therefore [Lab] increases continuously in time. Comparison of unevenly versus evenly aerobic conditions shows that in the former case the depletion of the glycogen stores is much faster in the muscles (or muscle fibres) that are producing lactate than in those which remove it. Hence the lactate producing fibres may become crucial in setting the duration (or intensity) of performance. AT, irrespective of its precise mode of assessment, is presumably a measure of the exercise intensity corresponding (or close) to the transition between evenly and unevenly aerobic conditions, thus explaining why AT is a good estimate of the subjects’ training status and/or performance capacity.

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