Why Athletes (of all levels) Should Invest in Exercise Testing

Professional Xterra triathlete Kara Lapoint doing a VO2 Max test

Professional Xterra triathlete Kara Lapoint doing a VO2 Max test

Do you exercise for the purpose of increasing strength, endurance or sport performance? If you answered “yes,” regardless of your age or current ability, you are an athlete. Exercise/metabolic testing gives athletes of all levels invaluable information to improve weight loss efforts and body composition, sport performance and metabolic efficiency. These tests are particularly useful when they are repeated over the course of a season or weight loss program, as they give an indication of how a person is progressing. Elliott Performance & Nutrition and Achieve Health & Performance offers each of these tests because they provide accurate information that can help our clients reach their goals faster and more effectively. 

What is Exercise/Metabolic Testing?

Though exercise testing (in general) refers to a broad range of tests, I will be referring to high-end exercise testing that utilizes a metabolic cart in this post. A metabolic cart is a sophisticated piece of machinery that measures the oxygen consumption (VO2) and carbon dioxide production (VCO2) through indirect calorimetry. Achieve Health & Performance has the only metabolic cart in the Roaring Fork Valley that can evaluate both energy expenditure and exercise metrics. These specific measurements can determine the following (each piece of information has unique advantages that will be discussed in greater length below):

  • Caloric expenditure at various intensities and at rest
  • Fuels an individual is burning at different intensities (carbohydrate vs. fat)
  • Metabolic efficiency (i.e. are you an effective fat burner or is your body relying too heavily on carbohydrate?)
  • Anaerobic Threshold/Lactate Threshold or the point at which lactate accumulates in blood faster than the body can remove it (knowing this specific point can improve training efforts and inform training programs)
  • VO2 Max or genetic potential (gives athletes a benchmark to gauge training program effectiveness, provides an accurate max heart rate)


and the various benefits of each evaluation...

A metabolic cart can be used to measure caloric expenditure at rest and can also attach to a treadmill or bike to perform exercise testing. The basic tests we offer are listed below in addition to information about why these evaluations are useful.

Resting Energy Expenditure (REE)

This test can be particularly helpful for athletes, who are looking to lose weight or become more metabolically efficient. Garnering an accurate picture of how many calories you are burning at rest informs your true caloric needs for weight loss, rather than relying on prediction equations. A resting test will also provide a picture of how efficiently your body is using fat. At this intensity, the body should be burning mostly fat rather than carbohydrate. If this is not the case (or if your percentage of fat utilization is less than ideal), dietary modifications can help. This information can also be cross-referenced with data from a sub-max test to determine metabolic efficiency at rest in addition to during exercise. This provides an even more extensive picture of an athlete’s metabolic efficiency.

Anaerobic Threshold Analysis (AT) or Sub-Max Test

During a sub-max test, you will exercise on either a bike or a treadmill at increasing intensity while the metabolic cart takes measurements (heart rate and speed or cycling power are concurrently measured). This metabolic assessment will first and foremost give you accurate training zones up to your AT, rather than relying on estimates. Getting an accurate AT analysis will inform where you should be training to increase the amount of time you can race at threshold intensity, which is hugely impactful for sport performance. In addition, you will know how many calories you are burning in each zone, which can be useful in calculating caloric needs for weight loss as well as creating a race day fueling plan (plus it’s fun to see how accurate your Fitbit or Garmin really are). You will also know what fuels you are burning during exercise. This will give you a picture of your metabolic efficiency (particularly when cross-referenced with a resting test), which can be improved through diet and fueling strategies.  

VO2 Max Test

VO2 Max is the best indicator of your cardiorespiratory potential (size of your engine) and can be influenced by roughly 15-20% through training. Though VO2 Max can not be influenced as much as lactate threshold, it is a useful measurement for several reasons. First and foremost, this test allows us to get a true max heart rate and accurate high end zones. Because training and weight loss can influence VO2 max, understanding this exact number and training to improve it, can positively influence exercise capacity. In addition, repeat testing helps to evaluate the effectiveness of your training plan so you can fine tune your program to achieve your highest aerobic potential. Finally, we can compare your results to other athletes in the population to see where you are currently sitting (elite vs. excellent vs. average, etc.), which is always fun.

In Conclusion

Each of these tests can be done individually or as part of a more comprehensive package. In addition to exercise and metabolic testing, we also offer body composition analysis, individualized sport nutrition consults, and an athlete-specific lab panel (cash pay only). Nutrition is a huge differentiating factor in athletic performance, so maximizing your fueling efforts with the help of a sports dietitian can make a huge difference. Our athlete specific lab panel is designed to look in more detail at lab values that impact sport performance. This testing was created to keep athletes healthy and to help them perform to their highest potential. Please contact us for more information or to make an appointment.

Katie ElliottComment