High-tech training and racing: the best software for metabolic profiling
With coaches and athletes unable to meet in person to undertake fitness testing, the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the digitisation of performance testing to a whole new level.
We know how important it is to test fitness levels and gauge the progress – or not! – of a training programme. However, the difficulty of hooking up in person and visiting labs has created a new demand for reliable testing protocols that can be performed at home, on turbo trainers, whenever is easiest for the cyclist. That’s why a new breed of training software is re-shaping the market.
The fact that they’re mainly from German-speaking countries is no coincidence, either. Most of them ground their algorithms on sports doctor Alois Mader’s studies on lactate, which paved the way for a highly polarising and debated metric: VLamax. This metric calculates the maximum accumulation rate of lactate (or the power coming from glycolysis) in the muscles from just one drop of blood. Some swear by it; some say it’s a chimaera.
Related: Rouleur Performance. What is cycling economy and how can you improve it?
It’s not all about VLamax, of course. VO2max, anaerobic threshold, and even the combustion rates of fat and carbs – this new breed measures them without the need to visit a lab. Which is all well and good, you might ask, but how accurate are they? Well, some of them have already been used to great success by World Tour teams, so there must be solid grounding behind the digital calculations…
Among the pioneers in this field, INSCYD – software developed by Tony Martin’s former coach Sebastian Weber – provides athletes with the most popular physiological metrics (VO2max and anaerobic threshold), as well as less well-known ones like fat and carbohydrate combustion, cycling economy, energy contribution and FatMax. This is the training intensity that you burn the most fat.
The algorithm functions via either lactate testing (if athletes and coaches can meet in person) or through power-only tests, meaning you can test at home whenever you want (as long as you have a power meter). Finally, when you pop your test numbers into INSCYD’s ‘dark box’, in return you’re given your complete metabolic profile plus the chance to run a virtual test and target which metrics you should focus on... and which ones to forget.
Azum is an interesting mix. It provides standard calendarisation, like you see on Training Peaks, but it provides a metabolic profile through the INSCYD integration, too. Fear not – you don’t have to use both, as the AZUM metabolic profile works through FTP tests as well; that said, it may lack the accuracy of the other software programmes in this list. Another interesting feature is its calculation of energy expenditure from training and racing data, with which you can tailor better training and racing nutrition plans.
Sentiero is still in its infancy and demo version, but it’ll launch soon – and, on paper, looks a game-changer. Firstly, it’ll be free, at least in the short-term. Secondly, its metabolic profile reliability is very close to INSCYD’s (it works through power-only tests, but you can integrate it with lactate tests, too). Thirdly, its nutrition features have no comparison currently on the market. The result is software that can not only predict your energy expenditure ahead of training sessions and races (and based on your individual metabolic profile), but also allows you to select food and recipes to precisely calculate what you need before and after the session. From a physiological point of view, Sentiero also calculates VO2max, FatMax, fat and carb combustion at different power outputs and metabolic stress, as well as torque, altitude and other analysis tools. It’s simple in its layout, but that’s a positive as it makes you focus on the most important things.
Watch this space for when Sentiero will launch.
Mesics offers an array of products including software for professional diagnosticians (Winlactat) and a more accessible version to start your career in lactate testing (Lactate EXPRESS). Unlike other software, Mesics require physical lactate testing to work, so you cannot test at home whenever you feel like it. However, their reliability makes them among the most used in the field. In the last couple of years, Mesics has launched upgrades to calculate metrics like VLamax from all-out tests (which has been INSCYD’s wheelhouse since the beginning), as well as a metabolic profile calculator to establish FatMax and substrate utilisation. Mesics’ latest modules will be available to ship to customers in summer 2022, and will be ready as a web application in 2023.
Aerotune differs to its contemporaries here in that it’s not just software for metabolic assessment but also for real-world aerodynamic testing. Through the use of a power meter, a GPS tracker and a speed sensor (optional), Aerotune will help you to calculate your CdA (coefficient of aerodynamic drag) and Crr values (coefficient of rolling resistance). You’ll need a 1km stretch of road (plus extra for acceleration, turning and deceleration) with limited vertical gains and losses of no more than five metres. The metabolic test details your VO2max, VLamax, anaerobic threshold, FatMax and energy consumption. Just remember that these tests can only be undertaken if you have a power meter.
Likely more tailored to physicians and universities, Ergonizer is another well-respected software programme that's been in the mix for over 20 years. It works by using lactate tests but also allows predictions without measuring lactate. You’re also given energy-expenditure calculations, lactate-to-heart-rate analyses, estimation of VO2max and a new feature for automated generation of critical power graphs.
As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. So no matter which kind of software you use, you’ll add a string to your high-performance bow.