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Metabolic Testing to Enhance Athletic Performance

Image - Metabolic Testing at HSS Sports Performance Center

Athletes, especially those participating in endurance sports such as running, often strive to improve their performance. At the Tisch Sports Performance Center at HSS, we work with individuals seeking to gain a better understanding of how their body works so they can be at their best in their sport or gain a competitive edge.

We see endurance athletes of  all levels and types: runners, cyclists, triathletes, rowers and climbers. With advanced testing equipment and the expertise of our exercise physiologists, we help individuals maximize their performance, from those training for their first marathon to elite professional athletes.

What is Metabolic Testing?

Metabolic testing measures an individual’s physiological response to exercise. At HSS, the testing is customized to meet the goals and interests of each athlete. At HSS, we use the Parvo TrueOne metabolic cart, the same system used in Olympic Training Centers. The test entails breathing into a mouthpiece during exercise of increasing intensity.

To determine an individual’s current fitness level and areas for improvement, our exercise physiologists measure one or more of the following indicators:

  • Maximum aerobic capacity:: This is the maximum amount of oxygen the body is capable of using during intense exercise , known in technical terms as VO2 Max. This is a marker of physical fitness and a key indicator of one’s potential as an endurance athlete.
  • Energy economy at race pace: The amount of oxygen consumed at this pace can be compared to the amount consumed by elite athletes. If poor form is affecting performance, we can offer training tips to help athletes become more efficient in the mechanics of their sport.
  • Metabolic efficiency: We look at the total number of calories burned at a given exercise intensity and the percentage coming from an athlete’s stores of fat versus carbohydrates. This information is useful for planning both training and nutrition needs for endurance events. Certain training techniques may improve an athlete’s ability to burn a greater percentage of  fat (instead of carbohydrates) during exercise..  Athletes who can tap into their stored fat and spare using their carbohydrate stores during exercise can be less reliant on gels, bars, and sports drinks for fuel. , . This could be significant for mountain climbers who could reduce the amount of food carried in their back pack or for marathon runners who find it difficult to tolerate sports nutrition products when running.
  • Lactate threshold: This is the point during exercise of increasing intensity at which blood lactate levels begin to rise rapidly and fatigue ensues. The test entails a finger prick to obtain a drop of blood while exercising on the treadmill or exercise bicycle. The lactate threshold indicates one’s maximum sustainable pace and has been found to be a reliable predictor of long distance/endurance race performance. The lactate threshold can be increased significantly with targeted training.

Incorporating Metabolic Testing Results into Training

Once information is collected, the metabolic profile can serve as a basis for a targeted plan to train smarter and more efficiently. Athletes receive a report that identifies target heart rate training zones as well as areas where performance gains are possible –whether raising the aerobic ceiling (VO2max), raising lactate threshold to be able to sustain a faster pace, , developing  strategies to burn fewer carbohydrates and improve metabolic efficiency,  or  improving  running or cycling mechanics to conserve energy.

Those interested in testing should plan to spend  o1.5 hoursat the center, although the actual testing generally takes 20 to 30 minutes. People receive preliminary results on the spot and later receive a complete detailed report. We find that the athletes are very happy to gain insight into their own physiology so they can fine tune their training, improve their performance, and enjoy the satisfaction of personal achievement.

Reviewed on July 12, 2018

Polly de Mille, HSS exercise physiologist

Polly de Mille is the coordinator of performance services at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. In addition to being a registered nurse, she holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a registered clinical exercise physiologist, exercise specialist and exercise test technologist. She is also a certified USAT Level 1 triathlon coach.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.