Oxygen transport during exercise at altitude and the lactate paradox: lessons from Operation Everest II and Pikes Peak

Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1992;20:275-96.


It seems unlikely that oxygen-limited metabolism explains the increased lactate concentrations in blood or muscle during exercise at high altitude compared with sea level values because: 1. Even marked hypoxia equivalent to that at the summit of Mt. Everest may not be sufficiently severe to impair function or to impair muscle oxidative metabolism markedly during exercise; 2. At this very high altitude, muscle hypoxemia is probably not the limiting factor for exercise performance; other systems, i.e., the cerebral cortex [24, 33], probably fail before hypoxemia impairs muscle metabolism; 3. The traditional view of oxygen-limited aerobic metabolism during exercise at high altitude does not explain a long-standing dilemma in altitude physiology, the lactate paradox (in which blood lactate accumulation during exercise is increased on arrival at high altitude but falls with acclimatization), because the lactate fall is independent of muscle oxygenation; 4. Net lactate release by the leg during exercise is independent of oxygenation; 5. Kinetic studies show that lactate appearance and disappearance are closely linked and both increase with acute altitude exposure and decrease with acclimatization; 6. Lactate appearance rate is strongly correlated with, and may be influenced by, the extent of beta-adrenergic stimulation; 7. The beta-adrenergic stimulation may be, in part, determined by the degree of arterial oxygenation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology
  • Adult
  • Altitude*
  • Atmosphere Exposure Chambers
  • Epinephrine / blood
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lactates / blood*
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology


  • Lactates
  • Oxygen
  • Epinephrine