Before this study, no studies had evaluated the effects of ML on performance in an intermittent high power sport such as ice hockey. Although typical play shifts in ice hockey are less than 1 min in duration, the game involves three 20-min periods, and both practice and play require a considerable aerobic contribution. The 6-min cycle ergometer challenge used in this study is a test that has been used to evaluate fitness in ice hockey players and is of a duration sufficient to evaluate an ergogenic effect before a confounding during exercise bronchoconstriction (2,3). A 10-mg dose of ML taken orally 6–8 h before a 6-min maximal intensity bout of cycle ergometry had no ergogenic effect on total work accumulated in cold/dry ambient conditions (−2.5°C) for subjects in this study. Maximal heart rate values were similar between trials for both PL and ML, indicating that subject effort was comparable. When subjects were grouped according to EIB status, no increase in performance after ingestion of ML was noted within either EIB− or EIB+ groups, despite an approximate 50% improvement in postexercise lung function in EIB+ subjects. Interestingly, EIB− subjects demonstrated significantly greater total work accumulation and significantly lower peak HR than EIB+ subjects regardless of PL or ML, even though subject effort was maximal.
Mean resting lung function in the male participants in this study was normal for both EIB− and EIB+ subjects. Although bronchodilation has been reported in asthmatic subjects within 1 h after a 10-fold greater than therapeutic dose of ML (19), bronchodilation was not apparent in either EIB− or EIB+ subjects in this study; this was in agreement with the findings of others (26). In contrast to our previous studies where we identified abnormal resting lung function in approximately 25% of elite women ice hockey players (21,22), only two hockey players in this study exhibited below normal resting lung function. The subjects in our earlier studies (21,22) were elite hockey players who trained over 2 h·d−1, five times per week in a high particulate matter environment; alternately, the hockey players in the present study completed only three 1-h practice sessions per week in a clean air (low [PM1]) rink.
Thirty-three percent of our subjects tested positive for EIB. This is consistent with previous prevalence data reported for ice rink athletes; greater than 30% of figure skaters (13,17), 43% of Olympic short-track speed skaters (30), and 20–35% of elite ice hockey players (11,21) are hyperresponsive to exercise, hyperventilation, or pharmacological challenge. Lumme et al. (11) found 24% of elite Finnish male ice hockey players demonstrated bronchial hyperresponsiveness in a histamine-challenge test, and Rundell et al. (21) found 21% of elite women hockey players were hyperresponsive to exercise.
Postchallenge lung function in EIB− subjects was not altered by 10 mg of ML ingested before exercise; however, in EIB+ subjects, ML ingestion improved postchallenge FEV1 by approximately 50%. This response was similar to findings of others (4,6,7,10,12,14–16,18,20,27), showing approximately 50% improvement in postchallenge lung function by ML in EIB+ and asthmatic subjects. Our results are inconsistent with those reported by Helenius et al. (9), who showed little effectiveness of ML in abating airway hyperresponsiveness in Finnish ice hockey players when challenged with histamine. Our subjects did not undergo a histamine challenge because this challenge lacks sensitivity to EIB (8). The lack of sensitivity and specificity of pharmacological challenges concerning a leukotriene-mediated response are supported by Crimi et al. (5), who found that ML had a significant protective effect against neurokinin A-induced bronchoconstriction but not against a methacholine challenge.
In spite of improved postexercise lung function in EIB+ subjects after ML, no concomitant improvement in high-intensity cycle ergometer performance was noted. This is most likely due to our protocol; by design, our subjects did not warm up with exercise preceding the high-intensity exercise challenge. Because of this, it is probable that bronchoconstriction in the EIB+ subjects did not occur until after the challenge was completed. Beck et al. (3) demonstrated that bronchoconstriction does not occur during short-duration constant-load or high-intensity cycle ergometry in asthmatic subjects. Our study design allowed for a clear picture of the ergogenic effects of ML in EIB+ subjects during exercise, independent of the bronchoconstrictive influence from a prechallenge exercise as previously done (25).
In a previous study evaluating the effects of ML on exercise performance by EIB+ asthmatics, Steinshamn et al. (25) found that 10-mg ML significantly improved running time to exhaustion in cold conditions. However, that study was specifically designed to trigger the bronchoconstrictive response before a “symptom-limited” run to exhaustion by preceding a maximal effort run to exhaustion with a 6-min run at 80% ;V̇O2max and a 4-min recovery period. Consequently, those individuals whose lung function was preserved by ML after the initial 6-min run demonstrated improved performance during the run to exhaustion. The intention of the Steinshamn et al. (25) study was to examine the physiological effects on ML during a running period in which the subjects were suffering from EIB; alternatively, the intention of the present study was to examine the influence of ML independent of bronchoconstriction. The discrepancy between our findings and those of Steinshamn et al. (25) could also be a result the duration of treatment in their study (5 d). Although a single 10-mg dose of ML is adequate to improve lung function in EIB+ subjects, perhaps a longer duration of treatment is needed to see improvements in exercise performance. Finally, our study population consisted of trained collegiate athletes, while those in the Steinshamn et al. (25) study were nonathletes.
In conclusion, a single 10-mg dose of ML ingested 6–8 h before high-intensity exercise did not provide an ergogenic effect during high-intensity cycle ergometry for our group of EIB+ and EIB− athletes. The specific nature of our study design most likely allowed EIB+ subjects to perform the 6-min exercise challenge free of bronchoconstriction, thus abating any performance effect during exercise because of improved lung function. Currently, ML is not on the doping control list of the International Olympic Committee. Our results, taken in consideration with those of Sue-Chu et al. (26), further justify the position that ML is not an ergogenic aid.
This work was supported by Merck and Co., Inc. grant no. SING-U.S.-63-01.
The views, opinions, and findings contained in this report are those of the author and should not be construed as an official position of Marywood University or ACSM.
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