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myoglobin levels

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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New Member
May 28, 2002
Does anybody know the differences of expression of muscular myoglobin between an apnea trained person and a non-trained one. I am also interested by the myoglobin levels of athletes trained to anaeroby like sprinters or to aeroby like long-distance runners, swimmers or cyclists.
I already know that a common person has around 5 mg of myoglobin per kg of fresh skelettal muscle. I have just been reading that seals have about 20 mg/kg and whales 70-100 mg/kg. Are there also great differences between different muscle groups and the type of muscles fibres (I, IIa, IIb, IIc and lately IIx)?


J. Mols
Very good question. I have researched this extensively.

Human myoglobin levels, as you stated, vary between 4-7mg/g of dry muscle.

I heard that penguins, seals and whales are 60-81mg/g, but maybe you're right, and some go up to 100mg/g.

Myoglobin in elite human cyclists was found to be no different than myoglobin of couch potatoes.

Further, power training and endurance training were both found to actually reduce myoglobin levels in athletes.

The only method ever discovered to actually increase myoglobin levels was to do high intensity exercise in hypoxia. Even then, the two studies which showed that, didn't actually measure the before & after myoglobin levels, they simply proved that the mRNA for myoglobin increased after the high intensity exercise in hypoxia, meaning that the body was signalling to grow more myoglobin, assuming enough iron and other raw materials were available.

To my knowledge, no one has ever measured the myoglobin levels of freedivers. Muscle biopsies to measure myoglobin are extremely expensive.

Whoever can discover an efficient training exercise to increase myoglobin levels will slowly but surely develop an insurmountable advantage over any opponents, and he/she could reach unimagineable proficiency in recreational diving & spearfishing.

Remember that in penguins, who inhale before diving, they store more O2 in their myoglobin than in either their lungs or their blood.

Likewise, a human with myoglobin of 60mg/g dry muscle would essential have a 2nd breath of air stored in their body, essentially doubing their diving capacity.

The only way I can think to make progress in this area is to actually invest $1000-$3000 for two or three muscle biopsies on ourself, then try some high intensity apnea exercises, and then do another muscle biopsy a month or two later, and see if the exercise was actually working. However, if anyone goes through that and actually finds an exercise which works, I doubt he/she would be willing to share that info for free!

But we can hope I guess.

One thing is for certain; whenever someone does discover such a training exercise, freediving will be taken to a level unimagineable by us today. Three hundred meter dynamics, one hundred and forrty meter constant ballast dives, seventy meter spearfishing dives... etc...

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
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Eric and J.,
Could either of you recommend any good books on marine mammal physioligy? I know virtually nothing about the subject but I'm really interested in it.
Eric, I saw on a tv program recently that an emperor penguin can dive some 1500 ft and stay under for sixteen minutes. I now understand from your description of myoglobin why they can stay for so long, but how does their body cope with the pressure of a 1500 ft depth dive?
God bless,
The deepest dive on record for the Emperor Penguin is 565m (1854ft), a dive which lasted for 12 minutes. Shallower dives have been recorded for up to 22 minutes.

Emperor Penguins, although technically birds, cope with the pressure just like other diving mammals, with respect to the blood shunt, plasma shift, and so on. Further, it has been calculated that the Emperor Penguin's lungs contain a volume of air insufficient to hold enough nitrogen to cause decompression sickness.

The Emperor Penguin is the champion of all diving animals, in the sense that it can dive to a deeper depth per kilogram of body weight, by a large margin. For example, it weighs about 30kg, but it can dive to 565m+, whereas the next best small creature is a harbor seal (100-200kg), which can dive to 420m+. An elephant seal (1000kg) can dive to 1800m, still nowhere near the depth per unit body mass of the emperor penguin.

Futher, the torpedo shape of the penguin's body has been shown to have the lowest drag coefficient of any shape, man-made or nature-made.

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
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Good grief! 1800m that's 5904ft! That is amazing. It's just awe inspiring to learn about what God has created.
Thanks for the info Eric. I'm really getting interested in subjects such as this since joining this forum. You've been a great help.
Are there any books that deal just with the diving physiology of marine mamals that you know of?
Much obliged and God bless,

I guess I have way more respect for marine animals now :D

Are there any books that deal just with the diving physiology of marine mamals?

Bindlestitch, just search in Google and you'll be surprised the amount of books displayed.

Good luck, gerard.
Sorry for the huge mistake in the units : g/kg or mg/g instead of mg/kg.
J. Mols
Re: Are there any books that deal just with the diving physiology of marine mamals?

Originally posted by gerard
Bindlestitch, just search in Google and you'll be surprised the amount of books displayed.

Good luck, gerard.
Good suggestions Gerard. Will do.

J. Mol , I appologize if I hijacked your thread , it's my overzelous curiosity taking over again.:head
Freediving in altitude and living at sea level

might be the key.

I read some research which states that:

"High intensity training in hypoxia further results in an increase of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) mRNA, capillarity and myoglobin mRNA. These results suggest that hypoxia training results in improvements of the oxygen transfer capacity in skeletal muscle tissue. They thus offer a plausible explanation for the observation that effects of hypoxia training in athletes can best be demonstrated when performance tests are carried out in hypoxia. Beneficial effects of "training high - living low" for sea level performance of athletes can be inferred from the structural changes observed in muscle tissue; however, the functional improvements remain to be demonstrated directly"

(Hypoxia training for sea-level performance - Training high - living low
Hoppeler H, Vogt M
502: 61-73 2001)

The second article states that:

"Myoglobin, a protein with an important role in muscle oxidative metabolism, is increased in high altitude residents... We therefore tested the hypotheses that myoglobin allele frequencies differed in Tibetans, a long-resident human high-altitude population, compared with sea-level residents, and varied in relation to altitude among Tibetans. We obtained the sequence of exon 2 of the myoglobin gene in 146 Tibetans with greater than three generations of stable residence at altitude in rural Tibet. We compared the frequency of known polymorphic sites in this gene among Tibetans living at altitudes of 3000, 3700, and 4500 m and to allele frequencies previously obtained in 525 residents of Dallas, Texas. We also examined the association between different myoglobin genotypes and hemoglobin concentration, used as an index of myoglobin levels. The frequency of the myoglobin 79A allele was higher in the high altitude compared with the sea-level residents, but unchanged with increasing altitude among Tibetans..." (Analysis of the myoglobin gene in Tibetans living at high altitude
Moore LG, Zamudio S, Zhuang JG, Droma T, Shohet RV
3 (1): 39-47 SPR 2002)

It would be interesting training for a year in a freshwater lake (and of course right after training going to sea level again) in "Andes" and see any improvements.

Is anyone out there willing to sponsor a good looking and kind freediver? :D

Je, je.

Regards, gerard.
Increasing Myoglobin Levels

Hello all:
There has been some interesting reading here. A truly fascinating subject. I look forward to reading more from this forum on the matter. I would like to include my .02 on increasing myoglobin levels.
The beef industry supplements selenium and vitamin E to cattle in order to increase their myoglobin levels. I imagine it's for getting a more appealing dark red color to the meat. I always try to utilize vitamin rich foods over supplements due to better absorption. I use an incredibly potent form of selenium from Brazil nuts. They are said to be 250 times the content of many other foods. But I always use the "shelled" ones, as there are two regions in Brazil that grow the nuts. The exporters in the "selenium rich soil" region of central Brazil, export nuts still in the shell. The less potent region of western Brazil, export nuts out of the shell. I do not know if this is more than coincidence. I also take caution not to consume more than 1 or 2 nuts per day, as selenium can accumulate in the body to toxic levels. I keep them in the freezer and remove one or two for a few minutes before cracking.
Also, be sure to eat iron-rich foods for the myoglobin to bind to. Meat sources, opposed to non-heme sources, absorb better, but non-heme sources seem to absorb better when taken with meat sources. Also, take vitamin-C when eating iron-rich foods. This enhances absorption. Try to avoid coffee, tea or cola's when trying to absorb iron.
Since reading some good articles on this forum, I've begun hypoxic training on a Nordik Track ski machine. Someone was right when they said that form of training was very hard on the body. I've started out with just an hour of continuous workout, with the apnea portion lasting 30 seconds, and normal workout for 60 seconds. At the end I tried 30 sec. on and off apnea, and seemed to make no difference in the ability to keep up. One interesting part though, was just like in the water, apnea became easier after that magic 20 minute mark from starting. Maybe the spleen emptiess fully by then?
Please keep these great post coming, as Eric stated, if this myoglobin thing is mastered, the performance will soar to new heights. I look forward to more on this subject here.


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The information gained from a muscle biopsy should be shared freely with any freediver, imho.

Like I stated in my burnout thread, I wait until i've done at least 20 minutes of run/walking before I do any apnea running. I don't know if this qualifies for extreme hypoxic training, but I do it. The full effects would probably take some time to feel though.
Recently, I have read in a biochemistry book specialised in physical activities that "intense hypoxia" can cause a rise in the skelettal muscles myoglobin mRNA of about 70%. The book was refering to two articles I have not yet the time to search for. The question is what intense hypoxia means for the authors.
selenium toxicity levels

I asked a university professor specialized in food chemistry about any possible ways to increase myoglobin and he said that apparently selenium has a very narrow "safety" margin, in other words, only 10 times the normal dosage will result toxic for the body.

Also that selenium as far as he knew was only used for sintesizing "selenocisteina" (sorry I can't translate it into English) which is involved again in the sintesizing of a couple of enzimes used for protection against free radicals.

So it seems that at least in humans selenium doesn't have much of a relationship with myoglobin.

He also suggested that the best way to increase one's myoglobin, apart from training in altitude was to be a whale :D

Safety first.

Can myoglobin from unused muscles be utilized

Adrian, thanks for the good input. Not exactly what I wanted to hear though.:confused:

Could anyone tell me if it is possible for myoglobin stored in unused slow-twitch muscles, to be recruited by the bloodstream and utilized elsewhere in the body during freediving? For example, can the myoglobin stored in the "arm tissues" help prolonge a dive session that is not requiring the use of the arms, or does that myoglobin only benefit the muscles where it is stored?

Thanks in advance,

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Myoglobin is inside muscle cells and it could only be released if cells are destroyed!! Myoglobin transports O2 inside the cells from the membrane where it fixes O2 coming from blood haemoglobin to mithochondria.
Can 02 stored in unused tissues be utilized?

I realized right after posting that I had not cleary stated my question. Please let me rephrase it below. I was hoping that Eric Fattah would comment on this question.

Could anyone tell me if it is possible for 02 stored in the myoglobin of unused slow-twitch muscles, to be circulated into the bloodstream and utilized elsewhere in the body during freediving? For example, can the 02 stored in "arm myoglobin" help prolonge a dive session that is not requiring the use of the arms, or does that myoglobin bound 02 only benefit the muscles where it is stored? I'm also curious just how quick (or slow) this storage/binding process is when storing 02 in the myoglobin.

Thanks in advance,

Not quite what you asked but ...


Not sure about the ultimate benefits of having a generally elevated myoglobin level (which I think is what you asked), but I did come across a reference that suggested that there is a therapy that can increase levels.

Oddly enough, this research indicated that you could increase myoglobin levels by chronic electrical stimulation of muscles. This seems a little counterintuitive, since prolonged activity like this must rely mostly on aerobic metabolism and I had always assumed that myoglobin was a big component in anaerobic fitness. On the other hand, the more that I research any of these topics, the more apparent it becomes that I know very little ... At any rate, I'll see if I can find this paper again and post the link.

I would hope that elevated myoglobin levels can make one more tolerant of hypoxia -- that seems to be the general expectation in the group. On the other hand, myoglobin's affinity for O2 is much higher than hemoglobin's, which raises the question of whether myoglobin can accelerate the rate of )2 desaturation in humans.

One other interesting paper that I stumbled across involved attempts to genetically alter rats such that they could produce myoglobin in their brains, thereby giving neuron's an independent supply of oxygen (sounds almost sci-fi). I'll post that link too if I can find it.

All that said, given your static times, I really don't think you need any advantages! What we should really be doing is feeding you misinformation to get you down to our level ;).
Two Links, Two cents

Here is one interesting link to a paper that suggests that changing myoglobin levels tends to lead to compensating changes in hematocrit, cardiac ejection fraction etc. In other words, decreased myoglobin levels tend to lead to specific adaptations that effectively counter the effect of the reduced levels. This suggests that it is entirely possible that increasing myoglobin levels (in and of itself) could well reduce other components of fitness for apnea.

Here is a paper that indicates (among other things) that endurance exercises (including chronic electrical stimulation) can increase myoglobin levels, mitochondrial volume, increased capillary density, increased glycogen storage etc. etc. Some of these adaptations might be disadvantageous to a freediver (e.g. I think that the increased mitochondrial volume would increase O2 demand). Others are a clear advantage (e.g. increased glycogen storage).

One more thought along these lines (going back to the original questions about muscle composition). Training exclusively for endurance tends to result in thinner muscle cross sectional area in order to optimize O2 transport into the muscles. My guess is that this would be an advantage as far as preparing for a dive and recovering, but it might be a disadvantage during a dive (all other factors equal). Fast twitch muscles seem to be easier to starve -- and they can still deliver power under those conditions. On the other hand, I have yet to see a photo of a hulking, muscle-bound, elite freediver. What's up with that!?!?!
The evidence that endurance training increasing myoglobin is shaky at best. Several studies have found that elite endurance athletes actually have lower myoglobin levels than couch potatoes. Other studies have found the opposite; either way, it is irrelevant, because all the studies report variances of less than a factor of 2. In our case, we need to increase our myoglobin by a factor of at least 20 times, so endurance training, even if it did increase myoglobin by a factor of 2, would be hardly noticeable for O2 storage (even if it helps for O2 diffusion during exercise).

Concerning the question about whether myoglobin in one muscle can help provide O2 to the rest of the body, it is a question that I have wrestled with for a long time, and the answer is complicated.

Myoglobin has a high affinity for O2, so O2 will always flow from the blood to the myoglobin; the myoglobin will never give O2 back to the blood. However, given that myoglobin stores O2, it can provide a muscle with fuel. All muscles are constantly consuming ATP, whether they are being contracted or not.

So, the muscle must constantly burn fuel, either from ATP/CP, from myoglobin O2, or from blood O2. The more myoglobin the muscle has, the more of a 'local' O2 supply it has. Under certain specialized conditions, this 'local' O2 supply in the myoglobin can reduce the rate at which the muscle draws O2 out of the blood, indirectly 'extending' the apnea by 'conserving' blood O2.

However, the conditions for this to happen are very specific. Normally every molecule of O2 stolen from the myoglobin is immediately replenished by the blood. O2 stolen from myglobin will not be immediately replenished from the blood if either 1) the blood is very deoxygenated, 2) blood flow is inhibited, or 3) intensity of contraction is extreme.

General, myoglobin desaturates when the O2 demand exceeds the O2 supply. If the O2 demand never exceeds the O2 supply, then the myoglobin will never desaturate, and it may as well not be there.

Now, performing the calculations on these cases is very complicated and I'm not confident I have done it properly, so I still can't answer the question for sure. I think at best the answer is 'maybe'.

The emperor penguin stores almost all its O2 in myoglobin. We also know that its deep dives last around 10-12 minutes, yet it can make shallow dives (i.e. closer to static apnea), for 22+ minutes. Perhaps this gives us a clue that myoglobin helps even in non-moving situations?

Eric Fattah
BC, Canada
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