Key points: The oxygen cost of breathing represents a significant fraction of total oxygen uptake during intense exercise. At a given ventilation, women have a greater work of breathing compared with men, and because work is linearly related to oxygen uptake we hypothesized that their oxygen cost of breathing would also be greater. For a given ventilation, women had a greater absolute oxygen cost of breathing, and this represented a greater fraction of total oxygen uptake. Regardless of sex, those who developed expiratory flow limitation had a greater oxygen cost of breathing at maximal exercise. The greater oxygen cost of breathing in women indicates that a greater fraction of total oxygen uptake (and possibly cardiac output) is directed to the respiratory muscles, which may influence blood flow distribution during exercise.
Abstract: We compared the oxygen cost of breathing (V̇O2 RM ) in healthy men and women over a wide range of exercise ventilations (V̇E). Eighteen subjects (nine women) completed 4 days of testing. First, a step-wise maximal cycle exercise test was completed for the assessment of spontaneous breathing patterns. Next, subjects were familiarized with the voluntary hyperpnoea protocol used to estimate V̇O2 RM . During the final two visits, subjects mimicked multiple times (four to six) the breathing patterns associated with five or six different exercise stages. Each trial lasted 5 min, and on-line pressure-volume and flow-volume loops were superimposed on target loops obtained during exercise to replicate the work of breathing accurately. At ∼55 l min(-1) V̇E, V̇O2 RM was significantly greater in women. At maximal ventilation, the absolute V̇O2 RM was not different (P > 0.05) between the sexes, but represented a significantly greater fraction of whole-body V̇O2 in women (13.8 ± 1.5 vs. 9.4 ± 1.1% V̇O2). During heavy exercise at 92 and 100% V̇O2max, the unit cost of V̇E was +0.7 and +1.1 ml O2 l(-1) greater in women (P < 0.05). At V̇O2max, men and women who developed expiratory flow limitation had a significantly greater V̇O2 RM than those who did not (435 ± 44 vs. 331 ± 30 ml O2 min(-1) ). In conclusion, women have a greater V̇O2 RM for a given V̇E, and this represents a greater fraction of whole-body V̇O2. The greater V̇O2 RM in women may have implications for the integrated physiological response to exercise.
© 2015 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2015 The Physiological Society.