Apnea: A new training method in sport?

Veldig viktig studie om hva dykkeres trening i Apnea (å holde pusten) kan bidra med i annen idrett. Bekrefter det meste av det jeg har skrevet om, men oppklarer noe om blodverdier bl.a. Nevner EPO, nyrenes tilpasning, hypoxi, HIF-1, melkesyre, lungevolum



Breath-hold divers have shown reduced blood acidosis, oxidative stress and basal metabolic rate, and increased hematocrit, erythropoietin concentration, hemoglobin mass and lung volumes. We hypothesise that these adaptations contributed to long apnea durations and improve performance. These results suggest that apnea training may be an effective alternative to hypo- baric or normobaric hypoxia to increase aerobic and/or anaerobic performance.

Apnea durations clearly increase with training. Perhaps less well known are the findings that apnea train- ing also increases hematocrit (Hct), erythropoietin (EPO) concen- tration, hemoglobin (Hb) mass, and lung volumes [2–5]. In addition, blood acidosis and oxidative stress were shown to be re- duced after three months of apnea training [6,7]. Therefore, why not encourage apnea training for athletes?

The major determinant of aerobic performance is the capacity to deliver oxygen to the tissues [8]. An increase in the total amount of erythrocytes, as reflected by increased Hct and Hb mass, is med- iated by the glycoprotein hormone EPO, which is predominantly synthesized by the kidneys in response to chronic hypoxia [9] and to some extent (10–15% of total production) by the liver. EPO stimulates the proliferation and maturation of red blood cell precursors in bone marrow, increasing oxygen delivery to muscle and thereby enhancing sports performance [9].

(hypoxic or ischemic conditions) results in a stabilization of the transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1a, which increases EPO secretion and the expression of EPO receptor [10].

Furthermore, any training effect vanishes rapidly (two weeks), as the newly formed red cells disappear within a mat- ter of days due to neocytolysis.

The splenic contraction effect

Apnea training may well be a future training method. Splenic contraction has been described in marine mammals as improving oxygen transport, through an increase in circulating erythrocytes. Its consequence is a prolonged dive without injuries. In humans, repeated apneas (five, in general) induce splenic contraction. This increases Hct and Hb (both between 2% and 5%) independently of hemoconcentration [19] and reduces arterial oxygen desaturation, thereby prolonging the apnea duration [3,19–22].

Repeated apneas are known to induce hypoxemia in the spleen and kidney, increas- ing respectively Hct and Hb and serum EPO concentrations [2,23].

First, the splenic contraction develops quickly after three or four apneas separated by two minutes of recovery and is associ- ated with a transient increase in Hb concentration. The amplitude of the spleen volume reduction after repeated apneas, with or without face immersion, varies widely (20–46%) depending on the rate of change in oxygenation [3,19,22,25–27]. The rapidity of the splenic contraction after simulated apneas strongly suggested a centrally-mediated feed-forward mechanism rather than the influ- ence of slower peripheral triggers [19]. These spleen and Hb re- sponses may be trainable.

Second, DeBruijns et al. [2] recently observed that repeated apneas increased EPO concentration by 24%, with the peak value reached 3 h after the last apnea and a return to baseline 2 h later.

The rapid reduction in tissue oxygen levels that oc- curs during apneas has been suggested to stimulate enhanced EPO production [25]. The decreased kidney blood flow induced by apneic vasoconstriction would result in local ischemic hypoxia, stimulating kidney EPO production. Similarly, obstructive sleep ap- nea increases the levels of EPO (􏰀1.6) and Hb (+18%) [24].

The lower SaO2 decrease found in trained divers after repeated apneas may account for the reduced oxygen delivery because of the diving response (bradycardia and vasocon- striction) and/or an increase in oxygen content [1].

Long term-effects

Another important consideration is the persistence of the per- formance gains. Most of the altitude exposure studies reported short-term effects (i.e., weeks). Repeated apneas increase Hct but this increase disappears within 10min after the last apnea [22,26].

The effects of repeated apneas on spleen and endogenous EPO may also constitute an alternative to using rhEPO or its analogues. In addition, comparison of resting Hb mass in elite BHDs and untrained subjects showed a 5% higher Hb mass in the BHDs, and the BHDs also showed a larger relative increase in Hb after three apneas (2.7%). The long-term effect of apnea training on Hb mass might be implicated in elite divers’ performances. Re- cently, it has been found that after a 3-month apnea training pro- gram, the forced expiratory volume in 1 s was higher (4.85 ± 0.78 vs. 4.94 ± 0.81 L, p < 0.05), with concomitant increases in the max- imal oxygen uptake, arterial oxygen saturation, and respiratory compensation point values during an incremental test [30].

In addition to increasing EPO and provoking splenic contraction, apnea training has been hypothesized to modify muscle glycolytic metabolism. An improvement in muscle buffer capacity [6,7,32] would reduce blood acidosis and post-apnea oxidative stress [6]. Delayed acidosis would also be advantageous for exercise perfor- mance. Finally, trained BHDs exhibit high lung volumes [15]. Ap- nea training might be interesting to improve respiratory muscle performance [15], thereby delaying the respiratory muscle fatigue during prolonged and maximal exercise.

Greater cerebral blood flow (CBF) increase was described during long apnea in elite BHDs than in controls and interpreted as a protection of the brain against the alteration of blood gas [33]. The CBF increase observed in BHDs could be the re- sult of an increased capillary density in the brain as has been de- scribed after a prolonged hypobaric hypoxia exposure [35]. These results suggest that apnea training per se provides hypoxic precon- ditioning, increasing hypoxemia and ischemia tolerance [33].

The physiological responses to apnea training exhibited by elite breath-hold divers may contribute to improving sports perfor- mance. These adaptations may be an effective alternative to hypo- baric or normobaric hypoxia to increase performance. Further experimental research of the apnea training effects on aerobic and/or anaerobic performance are needed to confirm this theory.

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