In this study we have evaluated the changes in gas exchange variables, blood acid-base balance and the mechanical efficiency of muscle in healthy young men during an incremental exercise test. Twenty-six healthy men: age 22.1 +/- 1.4 (mean +/- SD) years, body mass 73.6 +/- 7.4 kg, height 179 +/- 8 cm, were subjects in this study. The subjects performed an incremental exercise test on a cycloergometer at a pedalling rate of 70 rev.min-1. The exercise test started at a power output of 30 W, followed by an increase of power output by 30 W every 3 minutes. Gas exchange variables were measured continuously (breath by breath). Antecubital blood samples for acid-base balance variables and plasma lactate concentration [La]pl were taken at the end of each 3-minute step. The lactate threshold (LT) in this study was defined as the highest power output above which [La]pl showed a sustained increase of > 0.5 mmol.l-1.step-1. The power output at LT amounted to 127 +/- 28 W. It corresponded to 45% of the maximal power output (MPO) reached at maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max). The oxygen uptake at the LT amounted to 1734 +/- 282 ml.min-1 and corresponded to 48% of VO2 max (3726 +/- 363 ml.min-1). The minute ventilation at the LT amounted to 47.8 +/- 7.5 l, and its increase to the level of 125.7 +/- 19.7 l reached at the MPO was obtained mainly by intensification of breathing frequency from 23.8 +/- 3.31.min-1 to 43 +/- 5.91.min-1, for LT and MPO respectively. Analysis of the changes in PETCO2 during the incremental exercise test showed significant differences between subjects. One could recognise a group of subjects (n = 8) with high values of PETCO2 (above 45 mmHg) and a group of subjects (n = 8) with lower values of PETCO2 (below 43 mmHg). However, no significant differences in exercise tolerance, expressed by the level of MPO and maximal oxygen uptake, were found between those groups of subjects. The mechanical efficiency calculated on the basis of power output/net oxygen uptake ratio during cycling at a power output of 60 W amounted to 24.1 +/- 3.8 percent, at the LT 25.8 +/- 2.1%, whereas at the maximal power output a significant (p < 0.01) drop in muscle efficiency occurred, to the value of 23.1 +/- 1.6%. This drop in muscle efficiency occurring at the MPO may be an important factor limiting exercise tolerance when performing high power output exercise.
The above presented data illustrate the physiological responses to incremental exercise and the level of exercise tolerance, which may serve as a reference point for the population of healthy, young physically active Polish students.