To better understand physiology in extreme environments and to challenge accepted truths & dogma, we teamed up with John Hattersley and the team at the Human Metabolic Research Unit in Warwick to peel back the cover and take a little look inside at what our bodies were doing as were crossed Antarctica:
The energy expenditure and substrate utilisation were measured in 5 men pre- and post- a 67 day, 1750km unassisted Antarctic traverse from the Hercules Inlet to the Ross Sea Ice via the South pole pulling sledges weighing 120kg whilst experiencing temperatures as low as -57°C. A 36-hours protocol in a whole body calorimeter was employed to measure periods of rest, sleep and three periods of standardised stepping exercises at 80, 100 and 120 steps min-1; participants were fed isocalorically. Unlike previous expeditions where large weight loss was reported, only a modest loss of body weight (7%, P = 0.03) was found; fat tissue was reduced by 53% (P = 0.03) together with a small, but not statistically significant, increase in lean tissue weight (P = 0.18). This loss occurred despite a high-energy intake (6500 kcal/day) designed to match energy expenditure. An energy balance analysis suggested the loss in body weight could be due to the energy requirements of thermoregulation. Differences in energy expenditure [4.9 (0.1) vs 4.5 (0.1) kcal/min. P = 0.03], carbohydrate utilisation [450 (180) vs 569 (195) g/day; P = 0.03] and lipid utilisation [450 (61) vs 388 (127) g/day, P = 0.03] at low levels of exertion were different from pre-expedition values. Only carbohydrate utilisation remained statistically significant when normalised to body weight. The differences in energy expenditure and substrate utilisation between the pre- and post-expedition for other physiological states (sleeping, resting, higher levels of exercise, etc) were small and not statistically significant. Whilst inter-subject variability was large, there was a tendency for increased carbohydrate utilisation, post-expedition, when fasted that decreased upon feeding.
Open access article here