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Acclimatization and Performance Stunting Supplements?


Ever since we began formulating Mountain Might, we have become extremely interested in performance supplements.  They are not only beneficial for improving performance and reaching fitness goals, but also reveal interesting phenomenon about our physiology.  Resveratrol, though recently shown to be an ineffective ergonomic aid that may actually disrupt altitude acclimatization, shows us some interesting VERY interesting differences between us and mice.

Resveratrol: The Exercise Simulator?

Resveratrol is a natural extract from the vines and skins of grapes that had some very promising clinical findings on animals.  These studies demonstrated that long-term resveratrol supplementation protocols induced mitochondrial biogenesis as well as increase the endurance and aerobic capacity of mice.  Mitochonrdria are “power plants” that produce the majority of ATP inside our cells.  When I firstread these studies I was very intrigued for three reasons.  First, there is no other known supplement on the market at can increase mitochondrial growth and replication.  Mitochondrial proliferation would also be beneficial for cellular tolerance to high altitude.  Finally, mitochondrial biogenesis becoming all the rage in the performance nutrition world as there is some evidence that low glucose diets such as the Paleo can enhance this process.

The more I researched resveratrol, the more compelling the evidence seemed of its ability to increase mitochondrial growth.  The mechanism seemed clear (put simply, it works in two potential ways to activate a gene called PGC-1a).  This gene is known as the “master regulator” of mitochondrial activity.  Scientists have actually experimented with injecting this gene into the DNA of mice by splicing it into a virus.  They then inject the mice with the virus, which infectsthe mice’s genes and inserts PCG-1a into their genetic code.  Obviously it will be a while before these types of gene therapy are used to treat diseases and conditions in humans.

Mice Vs. Men and Acclimatization Stunting

But I digress, how does resveratrol inhibit altitude acclimatization and the performance adaptations of exercise?  One recent placebo controlled double-blind study on untrained men demonstrated that resveratrol supplementation reduced the performance gains of a long term exercise regiment.  Does this mean that resveratrol does not increase mitochondrial growth and activity in humans like it does in mice?  Not necessarily.  In his work “Intermittent Hypoxic Training: Fact and Fancy” altitude physiologist Benjamin Levine explains that unlike most mammals “humans have a mass-specific mitochondrial oxidative capacity that is greatly in excess of systemic oxygen transport.”  In simpler terms, this means that the cardiovascular systems ability to deliver oxygen to tissues is the bottleneck operation in aerobic fitness, as opposed to the mitochondria’s ability to convert that oxygen into ATP.  Thus increasing mitochondrial growth would not have as much of an impact on performance as cardiovascular adaptations such as increased blood volume, red blood cell concentration, tissue capillarity, etc.  Furthermore, resveratrol may actually directly inhibit these adaptations from taking place.

Specifically, resveratrol reduces the activation of HIf-1a by reducing the formation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (M-ROS).  M-ROS form in excess during both exercise and hypoxic exposure.  They serve an important role in blood oxygen detection by activating HIF-1a.  HIF-1a is the primary protein responsible for long term components of altitude acclimatization including red blood cell growth, tissue capillarity, myglobin production etc.  So by inhibiting M-ROS production, resveratrol actually blocks the benefits of high altitude training as well as some of the cardiovascular adaptations to exercise.

What other supplements should be avoided at high altitude?

Zinc, grapeseed extract, and chrysin have all been shown to reduce HIF-1a expression in clinical studies.  Like resveratrol, these may inhibit your body from acclimatizing properly.