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The Lactic Acid Challenge

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Lance Armstrong's recent, unprecedented seventh straight victory in the annual Tour de France bicycle race has generated tremendous interest and enthusiasm in competitive cycling. This strenuous sport challenges one's level of stamina, for which the competitor must be in peak physical condition especially for a course as grueling as the Tour de France or other races that encompass rugged terrain and/or great distances.

Whether you cycle competitively or simply do it to stay in shape, riding a bike is one of the best forms of exercise. I can speak with a measure of firsthand experience, having worked with some of the top competitors in the sport. I was a performance-training consultant to former male and female Race Across America (RAAM) record holders Jonathan Boyer and Elaine Mariolle. This super-endurance cycling event covers a distance of 3,120 miles from its start in Huntington Beach, Calif., to its conclusion in Atlantic City, N.J. I also consulted with the 7-11 Racing Team in Carmel, Calif., on strength training for cycling.

Working with these athletes gave me a greater appreciation for the rigors they endure and for the high degree of conditioning necessary to excel in the sport. Years ago I created a system of PTNT (Performance Testing, Nutrition, and Training), which has assisted top professional and amateur athletes to maintain or achieve greatness in their sport. One aspect of the performance-testing category is management of lactic acid, which is a factor related to the body's ability to endure prolonged physical activity.

Dr. Richard Milani, vice chair of the Department of Cardiology at Ochsner Clinic Foundation, with whom I work closely regarding my training programs, is a widely published author on testing and measuring the lactic (or anaerobic) threshold for athletes involved in strenuous sports. This is done, primarily, through a metabolic (or cardiopulmonary) stress test on a treadmill or a stationary cycle.

While the athlete is keeping pace with the training device, his or her oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, breathing rate and heart rate are measured to determine, among other things, his or her lactic acid threshold -- a point at which one's metabolism shifts from aerobic (pure oxygen) to anaerobic (oxygen debt), according to Milani. That is the point where the body starts to accumulate lactic acid in muscle and where exercise may become painful and compromise performance if the athlete is not trained properly. Milani passes this data on to me so that when I'm training athletes, I can achieve world-class results and manage their training intensity more effectively.

The cardiopulmonary stress test (CPX) is also done to ensure that the athlete is up to the challenge of the demands of their sport. If the test shows that an athlete's results may place them at risk, he or she is advised of that. In extreme cases, they may be advised not to participate in a particularly strenuous activity, Milani says.

"This test gives us an indication of the metabolic shape a person is in, which is critical in creating an exercise prescription," he says. "It also gives us information on possible rhythm problems with the heart as well as information on what kind of shape the participants' lungs are in."

Together with Ochsner cardiologist Dr. Carl "Chip" Lavie, we have what we confidently feel is one of the highest levels for performance testing of athletes anywhere in the United States. We also specialize in the nutrient delivery system that helps these athletes achieve and maintain their peak physical condition.

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