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Pulmonary Mechanics and Gas Exchange during Exercise in Kenyan Distance Runners

Foster, Glen E.1; Koehle, Michael S.1,2; Dominelli, Paolo B.1; Mwangi, Francis M.3; Onywera, Vincent O.3; Boit, Michael K.3; Tremblay, Joshua C.4; Boit, Chepleting3; Sheel, A. William1

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2014 - Volume 46 - Issue 4 - p 702–710
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000161
Basic Sciences

Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine arterial blood gases, the mechanical limits for generating expiratory flow and the work performed by the respiratory muscles during treadmill exercise in Kenyan runners.

Methods Kenyan runners (10 men and 4 women; mean ± SD age = 25.2 ± 1.3 yr) were instrumented with a radial artery catheter, an esophageal balloon-tipped catheter, and an esophageal temperature probe for the determination of blood gases, the work of breathing and core temperature, respectively. Testing occurred at 1545 m above sea level.

Results There were significant decreases in the arterial partial pressure of O2 and oxyhemoglobin saturation and a widening of the alveolar-to-arterial difference in O2 from rest to peak exercise. The mechanical work of breathing increased with increasing minute ventilation and was commensurate with values expected for treadmill running in elite athletes. During heavy exercise, significant expiratory flow limitation was present in half of the subjects while the remaining subjects demonstrated impending flow limitation.

Conclusions Pulmonary system limitations were present in Kenyan runners in the form of exercise-induced arterial hypoxemia, expiratory flow limitation, and high levels of respiratory muscle work. It appears that Kenyan runners do not posses a pulmonary system that confers a physiological advantage.

1School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, CANADA; 2Division of Sports Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, CANADA; 3Department of Recreation Management and Exercise Science, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, KENYA; and 4Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, CANADA

Address for correspondence: A. William Sheel, Ph.D., School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, 6108 Thunderbird Blvd, Vancouver, BC, V6T-1Z3, Canada; E-mail:

Submitted for publication April 2013.

Accepted for publication September 2013.

© 2014 American College of Sports Medicine