VLamax: Elite Coaches Secret Weapon

Are you a cyclist looking to sprint faster than Marcel Kittel? Or a triathlete dreaming of racing with Jan Frodeno at the next Ironman World Championships? These may be hard goals, but a good way to start working towards them is to understand a very important metric of human performance: VLamax. Because during both of these kinds of efforts, VLamax plays a crucial role.

Never heard of VLamax and this all sounds like blasphemy to you? Read on and you’ll understand.

VLamax: elite coaches secret weapon revealed

VLamax stands for the maximum production rate of lactate in your muscles (V=flux, La= lactate, max= maximum). Because the amount of energy produced in the glycolysis is proportional to the amount of lactate produced, VLamax is a good way to measure glycolytic power (the power produced through glycolysis).

The sprinter needs a lot of energy very quickly


Firstly, let’s look at a sprinter going flat-out at the end of a stage. This kind of effort lasts for approximately 12 seconds. 


In this case, the human body needs A LOT of energy, and it needs it QUICKLY. For such short, tough efforts, a high-energy production in a small amount of time is needed. But how? That amazing machine that is your body has a solution: it produces energy through an anaerobic pathway (a fancy phrase for saying “without oxygen”). And why does it produce energy without oxygen? Good question. The body uses an anaerobic process because it produces energy much faster than an aerobic process

The endurance athlete needs a good amount of energy for a long time


Now let’s take a look at endurance athletes who need A LOT of energy spread over A LOT OF TIME. Such endurance events can be long distance triathlons (half and full-distance Ironman), marathons and also bike races.

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In these kind of events (performed at low intensities for a very long time), a different energy production system takes place. It is called the aerobic pathway (another fancy word for saying “with oxygen”) and in this process energy is produced using oxygen, fatty acids and lactate as the main fuels. However, VLamax (the max production rate of lactate) affects the performance of an athlete in long events too. How?

That is easy to understand: if your lactate production rate is high at max conditions (sprints), it’s also relatively high at sub-max conditions (endurance events). Vice versa, if your maximum lactate production is low at max conditions, it’s also relatively low at sub-max conditions.

Glycolysis, lactate production and fat storage

The glycolysis (or the glycolytic process) is in fact at work within the human metabolism also when an athlete is working-out at lower intensities. Therefore, the more your body activates the glycolytic process, the more it burns carbohydrates during the exercise and this will trigger a higher lactate production (so, a higher VLamax too). On the other hand, if your VLamax is lower, it means that also your glycolytic system is less active and your body burns less carbs. And carbs are a such precious fuel you want to save as much as possible during endurance events: because if in long events you mainly burn carbs, then you also burn less fat. And that is a shame, because not only is fat very rich in energy and it contains roughly 9 kcal per every gram (against the approx. 4 kcal per gram of the carbs), but its storage is virtually infinite – whilst the carbohydrate one is limited.


Finally, it doesn’t matter if you’re Marcel Kittel or Jan Frodeno. In both cases – but especially in your case  – basing your training on VLamax will bring your performances to peaks they’ve never reached before.