Arterial hypoxemia and performance during intense exercise

Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1994;68(1):80-6. doi: 10.1007/BF00599246.


In order to determine the level of hypoxemia which is sufficient to impair maximal performance, seven well-trained male cyclists [maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max) > or = 5 l.min-1 or 60] performed a 5-min performance cycle test to exhaustion at maximal intensity as controlled by the subject, under three experimental conditions: normoxemia [percentage of arterial oxyhemoglobin saturation (%SaO2) > 94%], and artificially induced mild (%SaO2 = 90 +/- 1%) and moderate (% SaO2 = 87 +/- 1%) hypoxemia. Performance, evaluated as the total work output (Worktot) performed in the 5-min cycle test, progressively decreased with decreasing % SaO2 [mean (SE) Worktot = 107.40 (4.5) kJ, 104.07 (5.6) kJ, and 102.52 (4.7) kJ, under normoxemia, mild, and moderate hypoxemia, respectively]. However, only performance in the moderate hypoxemia condition was significantly different than in normoxemia (P = 0.02). Mean oxygen consumption and heart rate were similar in the three conditions (P = 0.18 and P = 0.95, respectively). End-tidal partial pressure of CO2 was significantly lower (P = 0.005) during moderate hypoxemia compared with normoxemia, and ventilatory equivalent of CO2 was significantly higher (P = 0.005) in both hypoxemic conditions when compared with normoxemia. It is concluded that maximal performance capacity is significantly impaired in highly trained cyclists working under an % SaO2 level of 87% but not under a milder desaturation level of 90%.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Test
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / blood
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Respiration / physiology
  • Tidal Volume / physiology


  • Oxygen