Knowledge Hub

Blood Lactate Levels: What Is Blood Lactate and What Are the Effects of Lactic Acidosis?

If you’re into health and fitness, maybe you’ve heard of blood lactate or lactic acidosis. The way your body uses, processes and clears lactic acid from your bloodstream can be indicative of your fitness, athletic performance, and potential health conditions. Athletes use blood lactate monitoring to better understand their physical limits and create personalised training plans.

Today, we’ll go into detail about what lactate is, why and when your body produces it, and what causes the life-threatening condition lactic acidosis. We’ll also discuss blood lactate monitoring, how Cranlea Human Performance can help with measuring it, and some applications in the medical and fitness industries.

What is Blood Lactate?

Exercise and movement in general produce lots of chemical products in the body through the expending of energy. One of these products is lactic acid, a relatively simple molecule that is always present in baseline concentrations in your blood. Normally your body processes and removes lactic acid at the same rate as it’s produced, but this is not the case during intense exercise.

To fuel your muscles for movement and to sustain cellular processes, the body must convert its glucose (sugar) stores into energy. It does this through a metabolic pathway called glycolysis; when oxygen levels are low, also known as anaerobic respiration, more lactic acid than normal is produced through glycolysis. As such, blood lactate levels can be used to identify biochemical events, for example heavy exercise and muscle fatigue.

Lactate levels, more specifically the concentration of lactic acid in your blood, can indicate a lot about how the body produces and uses energy when you’re exercising. By running a blood lactate test, you can understand your physical performance abilities and find where your limits lie. Lactate production can be affected by the intensity and duration of an exercise, how much and how efficient the body is at getting oxygen into your blood, and your overall fitness and health.

In some cases, high blood lactate levels can be a sign of conditions like ischemia or hypoxemia. Ischemia is when there is reduced blood flow in one particular area of the body, which could be caused by narrowed blood vessels. Hypoxia is when you don’t get sufficient oxygen into your blood in general, due to your lungs not transferring enough. Fortunately, high blood lactate levels are usually just an expected physiological response to physical exertion.

What is Considered a “Normal” Concentration of Blood Lactate?

Everyone’s baseline blood lactate concentration is different, but there’s a typical expected range for healthy individuals. This is usually about 1-2 mmol/L (millimoles per litre) when you’re resting. When you’re exercising, this figure can rise higher than 20 mmol/L.

What Causes Blood Lactate to Increase?

As mentioned earlier, your body can maintain its baseline blood lactate level when resting. The metabolic pathways to process lactic acid clear it from your bloodstream at the same rate as it’s produced, yielding almost no change in concentration. But when you’re intensely exercising, your muscles don’t receive as much oxygen, and therefore the processes to remove lactic acid can’t keep up with the production of lactic acid. This leads to a quick increase in blood lactate concentration.

Lactic acid concentration in the blood increases during exercise, but other conditions can also cause an unusually high blood lactate level. For example, impaired tissue oxygenation, where cells and tissues in the body aren’t receiving enough oxygen, can be the cause of high blood lactate.

Lactic Acidosis: The Effects of a High Blood Lactate Level

Too much lactic acid in the bloodstream is called lactic acidosis. Normally, your body clears lactic acid out of the blood at the same rate as it’s produced, but with lactic acidosis, a build-up of lactic acid in the blood leads to a low pH level, making the blood more acidic. Typical causes of lactic acidosis include infections, some medications, a lack of sufficient oxygen in the blood, problems with metabolism, and the list goes on.

The effect of Blood Lactate Acidosis is that an athlete or person cannot maintain their current level of output. As such they need to slow down or at worst, stop to recover.

What Are The Main Symptoms of Lactic Acidosis?

If you’ve ever gotten a stitch after running for too long, you have a taste of what lactic acidosis can feel like. Nausea, weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps and an overall feeling of tiredness are common symptoms of lactic acidosis. You’re also likely to be breathing very fast as your body tries to catch up on the oxygen it’s been missing, and your muscles will probably burn or ache, as lactic acidosis is often kicked off by intense exercise or physical exertion.

However, there are other causes of lactic acidosis. Certain medical conditions can impair the body's ability to get rid of lactic acid, such as severe infections (the technical term being sepsis), kidney or liver disease, and certain types of cancer. There are also a few types of medications that can cause lactic acidosis, such as the type 2 diabetes medication metformin, and medications used to treat HIV/AIDS. Of course, genetic factors and your overall health come into play in your propensity for lactic acidosis, as well as alcohol consumption and/or substance abuse.

How are Blood Lactate Levels Monitored and Analysed?

Lactic acidosis can sometimes be life-threatening. If you have reason to believe you have a high propensity for lactic acidosis, or you exercise a lot, it’s a smart idea to get your blood lactate levels checked to see if they lie in the normal range or not. By testing your blood lactate levels you can find out if enough oxygen is reaching your muscle tissues (insufficient oxygen is called hypoxia). It can also help to diagnose sepsis, a severe bodily response to infection, which can be deadly.

Cranlea Human Performance offers several highly effective products for measuring and monitoring your blood lactic acid levels. Our Lactate Plus Meter offers a full scope of analysis for measuring your blood lactate levels from rest to peak performance, with a range of 0.3-25.0 mmol/L.  All you need to do is prick your finger (with a single-use lancet),  discard the first drop of blood with an alcohol wipe (as this could contain contaminants), place the strip that is already inserted into the meter onto the new drop of blood, and insert it back into the metre to receive a result in only thirteen seconds.

It’s a portable handheld device that offers exceptional convenience for checking your blood lactate levels when you’re resting and when you’re exercising. You can buy our vials of Lactate Test Strips to use with the metre, and they have a shelf life of 12-24 months.

They’re single-use, 28-gauge lancets that puncture your skin painlessly. To ensure proper operation of the Lactate Plus Meter, you should run control tests using our Lactate Plus Control Solution. You should do this before your very first test, and at least once a week thereafter. Every time you open a vial of new strips you should do this, and definitely if you drop your metre too.

Applications of Blood Lactate Monitoring

Monitoring your blood lactate levels goes beyond just ensuring you don’t fall victim to lactic acidosis. Blood lactate monitoring finds lots of applications across a wide range of industries. For example, medical practitioners use it as a diagnostic tool, identifying elevated blood lactate levels as red flags for conditions like sepsis, heart failure and respiratory diseases. It’s also used to measure baby stress levels at the time of birth. In specific emergency scenarios, blood lactate levels can give quick insights into the gravity of trauma or a certain illness, which helps speed up decision-making.

Unusually low or high blood lactate levels can also be an indication of poor health and fitness. For example, if you’re on a diet or a regular exercise routine, or on a route to recovery, you could have a higher chance of developing a high blood lactate concentration.

Athletes use blood lactate monitoring both to check on their overall health and fitness, and also to better understand and enhance their performance. By pinpointing the lactate threshold, the point where lactate production exceeds removal, personalised training regimens are crafted for enhanced endurance. This can help reduce overexertion and overtraining. Using Blood lactate to inform training thresholds makes your training bespoke. When fitting training around busy work/life schedules it means that training is as efficient as possible, giving you the most bang for your buck.

Finally, blood lactate testing in scientific studies helps us better understand the human body, fitness, exercise and overall health. This can help us develop remedies and medications for lactic acidosis, and for enhancing physical performance.

To recap, lactic acid is produced when your body extracts energy from glucose. Normally your body clears it as fast as it produces it, but when you’re exercising and/or oxygen levels are low, more lactic acid is produced than your body can process. Too much blood lactate can cause a life-threatening condition called lactic acidosis, but this can also be an indication of deeper health problems. 

Cranlea offers several medical-grade solutions for measuring and monitoring your blood lactate levels both when resting and when exercising. By purchasing from Cranlea, you can ensure your blood lactate is within a normal range, and better understand your lactate threshold and physical limits. This information can help you improve your physical health and your athletic performance.

Click below to find our Lactate Plus Starter Bundle, which has everything you need to start taking Blood Lactate measurements.

Speak to the experts

Got a question?