European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 114, Issue 11, pp 2411–2425 | Cite as

Separate and combined effects of 21-day bed rest and hypoxic confinement on body composition

  • Tadej Debevec
  • Tarsi C. Bali
  • Elizabeth J. Simpson
  • Ian A. Macdonald
  • Ola Eiken
  • Igor B. Mekjavic
Original Article



This study tested the hypothesis that hypoxia exacerbates reductions in body mass observed during unloading.


To discern the separate and combined effects of simulated microgravity and hypoxia, 11 healthy males underwent three 21-day campaigns in a counterbalanced fashion: (1) normoxic bed rest (NBR; FiO2 = 0.209; PiO2 = 133.1 ± 0.3); (2) hypoxic ambulatory confinement (HAMB; FiO2 = 0.141 ± 0.004; PiO2 = 90.0 ± 0.4; ~4,000 m); and (3) hypoxic bed rest (HBR; FiO2 = 0.141 ± 0.004; PiO2 = 90.0 ± 0.4). The same dietary menu was applied in all campaigns. Targeted energy intakes were estimated individually using the Harris–Benedict equation taking into account whether the subjects were bedridden or ambulatory. Body mass and water balance were assessed throughout the campaigns. Whole body and regional body composition was determined before and after the campaigns using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. Before and during the campaigns, indirect calorimetry and visual analogue scores were employed to assess the resting energy expenditure (REE) and perceived appetite sensations, respectively.


Energy intakes were lower than targeted in all campaigns (NBR: −5 %; HAMB: −14 %; HBR: −6 %; P < 0.01). Body mass significantly decreased following all campaigns (NBR: −3 %; HAMB: −4 %; HBR: −5 %; P < 0.01). While fat mass was not significantly altered, the whole body fat free mass was reduced (NBR: −4 %; HAMB: −5 %; HBR: −5 %; P < 0.01), secondary to lower limb fat-free mass reduction. Water balance was comparable between the campaigns. No changes were observed in REE and perceived appetite.


Exposure to simulated altitude of ~4,000 m does not seem to worsen the whole body mass and fat-free mass reductions or alter resting energy expenditure and appetite during a 21-day simulated microgravity.


Normobaric hypoxia Simulated microgravity Fat-free mass Energy expenditure Appetite 



Acute mountain sickness


Body mass index


Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry


Fat-free mass


Fraction of inspired O2


Hypoxic ambulatory confinement


Hypoxic bed rest


Heart rate


Lake Louise score


Normoxic bed rest


Physical activity level factor


Prospective food consumption


Partial pressure of inspired O2


Peak power output


Resting energy expenditure


Respiratory exchange ratio


Capillary oxyhemoglobin saturation


Visual analogue score


Minute ventilation



The study was funded by the European Union Programme FP7 (PlanHab project; Grant No. 284438), the European Space Agency (ESA) Programme for European Cooperating States (ESTEC/Contract No. 40001043721/11/NL/KML: Planetary Habitat Simulation), and the Slovene Research Agency (Contract No. L3-3654: Zero and reduced gravity simulation: the effect on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems). The authors are indebted to Iva Kumprej, Elaine Woods and Seodhna Murphy for their excellent assistance with the data collection. Last but definitely not least, we would like to acknowledge the devoted participants without whom this study would not have been possible.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

421_2014_2963_MOESM1_ESM.docx (108 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 107 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tadej Debevec
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tarsi C. Bali
    • 1
  • Elizabeth J. Simpson
    • 3
  • Ian A. Macdonald
    • 3
  • Ola Eiken
    • 4
  • Igor B. Mekjavic
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Automation, Biocybernetics and RoboticsJozef Stefan InstituteLjubljanaSlovenia
  2. 2.UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human BiologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.MRC/Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research, Queen’s Medical Centre, School of Life SciencesUniversity of Nottingham Medical SchoolNottinghamUK
  4. 4.Department of Environmental Physiology, Swedish Aerospace Physiology CentreRoyal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden

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