Journal of Applied Physiology

Eighteen days of “living high, training low” stimulate erythropoiesis and enhance aerobic performance in elite middle-distance runners

Julien V. Brugniaux, Laurent Schmitt, Paul Robach, Gérard Nicolet, Jean-Pierre Fouillot, Stéphane Moutereau, Françoise Lasne, Vincent Pialoux, Philippe Saas, Marie-Claude Chorvot, Jérémy Cornolo, Niels V. Olsen, Jean-Paul Richalet

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The efficiency of “living high, training low” (LHTL) remains controversial, despite its wide utilization. This study aimed to verify whether maximal and/or submaximal aerobic performance were modified by LHTL and whether these effects persist for 15 days after returning to normoxia. Last, we tried to elucidate whether the mechanisms involved were only related to changes in oxygen-carrying capacity. Eleven elite middle-distance runners were tested before (Pre), at the end (Post1), and 15 days after the end (Post2) of an 18-day LHTL session. Hypoxic group (LHTL, n = 5) spent 14 h/day in hypoxia (6 nights at 2,500 m and 12 nights at 3,000 m), whereas the control group (CON, n = 6) slept in normoxia (1,200 m). Both LHTL and CON trained at 1,200 m. Maximal oxygen uptake and maximal aerobic power were improved at Post1 and Post2 for LHTL only (+7.1 and +3.4% for maximal oxygen uptake, +8.4 and +4.7% for maximal aerobic power, respectively). Similarly oxygen uptake and ventilation at ventilatory threshold increased in LHTL only (+18.1 and +12.2% at Post1, +15.9 and +15.4% at Post2, respectively). Heart rate during a 10-min run at 19.5 km/h decreased for LHTL at Post2 (−4.4%). Despite the stimulation of erythropoiesis in LHTL shown by the 27.4% increase in serum transferrin receptor and the 10.1% increase in total hemoglobin mass, red cell volume was not significantly increased at Post1 (+9.2%, not significant). Therefore, both maximal and submaximal aerobic performance in elite runners were increased by LHTL mainly linked to an improvement in oxygen transport in early return to normoxia and probably to other process at Post2.

  • intermittent hypoxia
  • maximal oxygen uptake
  • carbon monoxide rebreathing technique
  • soluble transferrin receptor
  • erythroid burst-forming unit
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