Tuesday, December 6, 2011

VO2 max test: my house is really tall

After struggling through a fall season where my HR zones were continually being "adjusted," I decided that I'd like to get a VO2 max test.  A VO2 max test measures many things, but the results of the test will give you your zones based on science instead of guesswork and formulas.  VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that an athlete can use during intense exercise.  The test gives you your VO2 max number, which is a good indication of your aerobic endurance potential, but it also gives you a ton of other information about how many and the kind of calories you currently burn during exercise at different intensities, as well as HR information as related to zones.  


I asked Lauren for a recommendation because I knew that she was really happy with the test she took last spring, and ended up scheduling with Melissa Dalio from endura coaching.  I contacted her via email about the test and we scheduled it for last week.  My initial impression of Melissa via email was fantastic - she seemed organized and detailed and everything I needed to do to prepare for the test was very clear.  I was told not to exercise the day before or the day of the test and not to eat for 3 hours before the test.  One mistake I think that I made which may have slightly affected my numbers was how I ate throughout the day.  When I'm hungry I get REALLY cranky, and I was so worried about feeling hungry after not eating for 3 whole hours that I'm pretty sure I overate quite a bit at lunch that day.  When we started the test, not only was I not hungry, but I actually still felt full.  Melissa told me that this may have slightly affected my fat-burn vs carb-burn numbers.  Otherwise, I felt rested and ready to go.


When I showed up for the test, Melissa had me start walking on the treadmill to warm-up while she took down a bunch of information about me (age, height, weight, rough idea of training paces, all kinds of stuff).  I'd guess that I walked for about 15 minutes and then eased into a slow jog.  One thing she did that was great was set up a video camera so I could see myself running from the side on the TV that was mounted right in front of the treadmill - live gait analysis.  We talked for a few minutes about some minor things as related to my gait, and then she turned off the camera and we got ready to start the test.  She paired my HR monitor with her machine and set me up with the mask that you wear that measures your breathing.  (She was also awesome enough to take a bunch of pictures and even a video of my suffering).
The test starts at a very easy pace.  Data is gathered in increments of a minute, so she let me know beforehand all the secret hand signals to let her know that I was getting tired or close to being done, and she told me that she'd have me finish out the minute (if possible) to get complete data.  Every minute, she upped the pace by about :30-:40/mile, and once I got pretty close to running flat-out, she added elevation instead of increasing pace.  Melissa let me know before we started that most people end the test and say they could have gone one more minute.  She also kept manual notes of HR/pace/cadence on a clipboard while I ran.  I made it 14 minutes and then we shut it down.  After that, I walked for about 10 minutes to cool down while she printed out and worked through the data.  Here are the results of the test (it's all gibberish but click on it if you're a science nerd like me):
And here are my zones (running only):
Just for fun, compared to my running zones that I used all fall (hot mess, straight ahead):
So, what does all the science mean?  A lot.  (Disclaimer: I'm using my memory and the packet Melissa gave me to translate all of this so it's highly likely that I might be getting some of it wrong.  Hopefully you internet scientists will straighten me out).


First of all, my VO2 max number is amazing.  Like really seriously surprisingly amazing, now that I've done some more research about what all this means.  My number, as a 31-year-old 5'6" 140lb female, was 51.5.  Here's a chart to help you recognize how awesome I am (like you needed it).
Right.  So the first thing I learned is that my aerobic potential is literally off the charts, which is a great piece of information to be armed with, mentally, on day 1 of IM training.  


The next piece of information is less happy - even at low intensities, my body is burning almost all carbohydrates and no fat.  This is really bad news for an endurance athlete.  In zone 2, I burn 4.7 Kcal/min of fat and 8.7 Kcal/min of carbohydrate.  Ideally, those numbers would be at least switched.  At my lactate threshold - the place where your body can recycle lactic acid as quickly as it is making it (top of zone 4, HR 170) - I burn 0.6 Kcal/min of fat and 14.4 Kcal/min of carbohydrate.  One of the many reasons that athletes spend so much time training in the dreaded zone 2 is because that's how you teach your body to burn fat.  I'm not sure of the statistic and I'm way too lazy to google it, but I believe that you have enough fat stored in your body to take you through a ridiculously long amount of exercise - like 24 hours or something crazy.  In contrast, you have enough carbohydrates stored to take you through about 90 minutes of exercise.  So athletes train at this low intensity to overload their slow-twitch muscle fibers which is where the fat burn happens which increases endurance (i.e. the thing you need to get through an Ironman).  Right now my body really sucks at that but it's really amazing at burning carbs.  Or, as Melissa put it, in my endurance house right now, my foundation is small but my house is REALLY tall (and I should be able to run much faster than I do, sigh).  Fortunately, I'll be spending most of the next 7 months in zone 2, which should help my body become an aerobic fat-burning monster.  


The other really critical piece of information that I got is related to nutrition.  When you are exercising for a long time, you need to replace the calories you are burning.  You can't replace the fat calories but you can replace the carbohydrate calories (I think).  In zone 2, I burn 281 Kcal/hour of fat and 523 Kcal/hour of carbohydrate.  Ideally, you'd like to replace every calorie you burn of carbohydrates but that is theoretically impossible because you'd probably power puke your brains out on the bike (not recommended).  However, Melissa let me know that I should be aiming for at least 250-300 calories per hour, which is quite a bit more than the 200 per hour I've been working off of for the past several months on the bike, and not even close to the 100 per 45 minutes that I've used for every long run I've ever done.  Which means I've probably been under-fueling for long workouts, which has probably been contributing to my very tall and skinny house.


I'm really happy that I did this for quite a few reasons, not the least of which is because I'm addicted to the science related to exercise.  Being firmly aware of what my body needs and is doing makes me feel much more confident about starting up IM training.  I'd like to go back in a few weeks and do this test on the bike, as there are formulas that can translate these numbers back and forth but they aren't exact.  If you're a local athlete, I definitely recommend Melissa for this test, and I'm sure I'll be back in her studio quite a few times this season.  Make sure to tell her that the blog with all the ass shots sent you.
Have you ever had a VO2 max test done?  Did you lose your lunch?  Is your house wide and short or tiny and tall like mine?

33 comments:

  1. I am addicted to VO2 max test! I am such a nerd with all the information. The last time I did it, a group of us did it together and of course had to compare to see who was the most superior. ha ha. It is always interesting to see how different everyone's heart zones are - mine is 130 on the high end and yours isn't even getting going at that point. Goes to show that getting the test is so much more useful than trying to figure out your zones from a standard chart.

    BTW - first time I took the test I thought I was going to DIE at the end, like fly off the back of the treadmill and call 911. The two tests I took since then were not nearly as painful. (thank goodness!)

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  2. OK,I already wanted to do this when you first mentioned it, but this post sold me. Send me her info?

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  3. That is amazing! Mine was in the mid 40s when I did it. I did mine on a bike though maybe I'll try the running one too since it's been quite a few years since I did mine.

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  4. PS: I am prepared to be disappointed when I do, though.

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  5. Holy sh*z, you're even MORE of a bad ass than I suspected! Damn!

    Great report on the VO2 max test. The entire process is wholly fascinating. I wanna play. Pass along her info, por favor?

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  6. Great you got it done, Lance, I mean Katie! Wow on that Vo2 max! I think that training in zone 2 will go a long way for you. It does take patience (not sure I have it!) but there's so much evidence backing up its value, it's worth a go.

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  7. I had my VO2 max testing done with Melissa too! She's fantastic! I need to go back and look at what my numbers are to determine how my house is built but awesome job on the VO2max!!! My score was 40, 51 is AMAZING!!!

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  8. wow that's all amazing news! and so stinking helpful. i may need to take one of those tests. we all knew you were "superior" already.

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  9. That test gave you a whole lot of info! I am not surprised you got such awesome scores. I would love to get the test one day.

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  10. i did and i found out it probably was done wrong...


    http://www.dailymile.com/blog/training/am-i-a-natural-athlete-can-i-improve-v02-max-and-lactic-threshold-tests-help-me-find-out

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  11. I have done a VO2 max test. Isn't it strange running with that giant octopus-looking thing strapped to your face?

    You're numbers are awesome though!

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  12. I have never trusted the HR zone calculations - these tests are obviously so much more accurate than going simply by age and an equation. I would love to do one of these!

    "an aerobic fat-burning monster." Lifelong dream, right there.

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  13. Science is fascinating. I should do this.

    Glad you got your HR zones all sorted out before starting IM training. I can only imagine how much better you'll be training in the proper zones!

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  14. I have been waiting for this post! I want to do this! Please pass her info along. Thanks!

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  15. So glad you enjoyed your experience with her!! and glad you finally got your zones nailed down. They seriously helped me through IM training and during the actual race.

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  16. That is freaking awesome information! I'm convinced! I so wanna do it!!!

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  17. SHE BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE.

    Seriously, this is all really interesting, and probably a bit beyond where I am as an athlete right now, but it sounds like an awesome thing to do as a stepping stone to a different, more hardcore type of training. Every time I read something so technical and science-y about athletics, I get overwhelmed by how crazy the human body is. (Profound comment, right there.)

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  18. This was fascinating! I had mine done a couple of years ago and I was exactly 51 as well. Although I remember nothing about the fat-burning vs carbs stuff you talked about. I highly doubt I'm a 51 any more...wonder if I could get back there??

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  19. Now I'm really intrigued. I love the info, even if I have no idea what it means. Congrats on being extra superior :)

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  20. Wow, what a difference an actual test makes over formulas. I know you were frustrated often trying to stay in your HR zones before and this certainly explains why!
    I've thought about doing this. I did the basal metabolic rate test a few months ago only to find out I burn more calories at rest than the average girl. Explains my runger! Science...who knew?

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  21. Very intriguing! But I already knew you were bad ass so I really didn't learn anything.

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  22. You have 80,000 calories stored as fat in your body (give or take). You have about 2000 stored as muscle and liver glycogen (what you are calling carbs). You would think "Oh, I'm good at burning carbs" means that you will be able to eat more calories during training. But that is not true. This test shows that you are good at burning muscle and liver glycogen that is stored in your body (2K calories). Putting a gel in your mouth does not immediately convert it to muscle glycogen. Training calories consumed are not equivalent to what you burn since everything you put into you stomach has to be absorbed and processed.
    The amount that you are able to process is dependent upon your gut. higher heart rate = less blood to the gut = less processing.

    I hope this helps a little bit :)

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  23. U should be a sprinter. That is all.

    Did she mention anything along the lines of subtract roughly 10BPM and you have your bike heart rate zones?

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  24. Those new numbers seem MUCH more realistic than what you were using before. I had my test done back in 2009 (probably time for an update) but I have found that information to be critical in making sure I keep easy runs easy, and that I don't over run the tempos. Also-- when it's really hot out and my tempo pace is slow, I know I am getting a tempo benefit if my HR is in the zone. Glad you had this done, and great to hear you have so much potential!

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  25. Wow! This is incredible! Now I really want to get mine too! Yesterday was also day #1 for CDA Ironman training for me! I can't wait to track your training along with mine - maybe our shared stories will keep us sane!

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  26. FASCINATING! What an incredible piece of knowledge about yourself—and how helpful to be able to work from a more knowledgeable place! Pass along her contact info to me, too, please ... I think I want to play, too. :)

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  27. I waited to read this post until I was comfortably into my offseason so that I could really comprehend everything.

    That being said, this information is invaluable. I need to find a place to get VO2 tested now so that when IM training starts for me I know exactly what my zones are.

    Thanks for the post.

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  28. Very interesting!

    Shoot me her info when you have a moment...

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  29. Excellent post! Many thanks for sharing your experience.

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  30. Back in the fall when you mentioned your HR zones I thought they sounded low but I figured that each person is different so they must just be specific to you. Your new zones look a lot more reasonable to me. I'm glad you took the test and know a ton more about your body now.
    I have heard of VO2 max before but I had no idea how it was tested! Thanks for all the info.

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  31. I re-checked your heart rate ranges after doing some runs and bikes with my heart rate monitor and I think that my super high heart rate zones that I got during my test were actually right! I did an 18 mile run on Saturday with an average heart rate of 175, which would be your Zone 5c. I'm a freak or something...

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