DALLAS - December 30, 1998 - Exercise physiology researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have learned why certain athletes don't respond to the internationally accepted "live-high, train-low" paradigm. The regimen - essentially living in the thin mountain air while training at lower altitudes to increase athletic endurance - is not effective in athletes unable to produce a sustained amount of a crucial red blood cell-increasing hormone.
"We've figured out some of the differences between the athletes who do and don't respond to altitude training. So now we hope to extend this research and predict who will and who won't respond with a screening test," said Dr. Benjamin Levine, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM) - a collaboration between UT Southwestern and Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas.
Exercise physiologists have known for years that, in most cases, the body responds to high altitude by producing more red blood cells to boost oxygen levels. That formed the basis of Levine's original 1997 study performed in collaboration with Dr. James Stray-Gundersen, a former assistant professor of surgery at UT Southwestern who now works with Norway's Olympic ski team.
The new study was published in the October issue of Journal of Applied
Physiology. Levine's team, including Stray-Gundersen and UT Southwestern
postdoctoral fellow Dr. Robert Chapman, looked at data from previous altitude
studies, specifically, erythropoietin (EPO) concentrations in 39 collegiate
runners living at high altitudes. Those who responded to the live-high,
train-low regimen showed a significantly larger increase in EPO concentration
than the nonresponders. The researchers theorized that this increased EPO
concentration allows the body to make more red cells while at high altitudes and
that, in turn, increases maximal oxygen uptake, which was shown through higher
Contact: Jennifer Haigh-Manley
UT Southwestern Medical Center