Overtraining – What Do Lactate Curves Tell Us?

Overtraining is the result of giving the body more work or stress than it can handle, and it occurs when a person experiences stress and physical trauma from exercising faster than their body can repair the damage. Overtraining is a general term for a situation in which there is an imbalance between exercise and recovery. Overtraining happens frequently in sport practice. Many athletes suffer from a decreased or lack of improvement in performance and can even begin to lose strength and fitness even though they continue their regular training programme. The only adequate therapy is a drastically reduced training or no training at all. Overtraining is difficult to diagnose because of the lack of appropriate indicators or misinterpretation of test results. In this article, a case study is analysed, which reminds us that lactate curves must be interpreted carefully, and highlights the importance of obtaining maximal lactate from a graded exercise test.

A 19 year old amateur cyclist competing at national and international level plays the lead in this case report. This cyclist contacted their doctor complaining that his performance was deteriorating.  His lower submaximal lactate concentrations were initially interpreted as improved endurance capacity. However, 2 weeks later, a test in which maximal lactate was measured showed that maximal lactate was decreased as well.

His medical history showed that he had some sleeping problems and was irritable. This information, together with his complaints of deteriorating performance lead the doctors to diagnose him with overtraining. The doctors advised the cyclist to rest and to avoid interval training for 2 weeks. 3 weeks after gradually increasing his performance he was able to improve his performance.

As a conclusion, athletes should be questioned carefully on their ability to perform their regular training programme, as well as other physical problems they may have. It is also very important to measure maximal lactate, as decreased submaximal lactates, in combination with decreased maximal lactate concentrations, can help in the diagnosis of overtraining. For this reason, lactate curves should be interpreted with caution.

This article was written by Asker E. Jeukendrup MSc and Matthijs K. C. Hesselink MSc and published in 1994 in British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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Overtraining – What Do Lactate Curves Tell Us?