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Effect of altitude on body composition during mountaineering expeditions: interrelationships with changes in dietary habits.

  • Zamboni, M
  • Armellini, F
  • Turcato, E
  • Robbi, R
  • Micciolo, R
  • Todesco, T
  • Mandragona, R
  • Angelini, G
  • Bosello, O
Published Article
Annals of nutrition & metabolism
Publication Date
Jan 01, 1996
PMID: 9087309


Loss of body weight occurs during high mountain expeditions but whether it is due to inadequate diet or other factors is unknown. Moreover the composition of the weight loss is unclear. The aim of our study was to compare the nutritional, anthropometric and metabolic changes during a mountaineering expedition in two groups of climbers, whose dietary energy intake was ad libitum, one given a lacto-fish-ovo-vegetarian diet and one an omnivorous diet. The intake of various nutrients, body weight, body composition and metabolic variables were evaluated before and during high altitude exposure and after the return to low altitude. The two groups were matched for age, body mass index and gender. No significant differences were found for nutritional variables between the two groups. Energy, animal and vegetable protein and fiber intake were significantly lower at climbing quote than before the beginning of the expedition. Significant differences between before the beginning and base camp in all variables were found. Energy and animal protein intake, but not vegetable protein and fiber intake, were significantly lower at climbing quote than at base camp. All subjects significantly reduced body weight, body mass index, waist and hip circumferences but not fat-free mass and fat mass. Metabolic variables significantly improved after the mountaineering expedition. Our study seems to confirm that a mountaineering expedition decreases energy and protein intake, reduces body weight and improves metabolic variables. Because our subjects spontaneously tended to have the same food intake despite the different dietary recommendations, our study failed to observe any differences between the two groups. However, our study shows that a low protein diet, in which the type of protein is mostly vegetable protein, could be adapted for climbers determining only a small decrease of fat-free mass.

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