Training at Altitude
Training at Altitude
Lori Nedescu, MS RDN LD
I recently returned from a cycling trip in Briançon, France which is France’s highest city, sitting at 4,350ft, deep in the hautes alpe region and a popular Tour de France destination. In five days of cycling there were 5 rides completed, totaling 250.5 miles and 35,534ft of climbing. Sound exhausting? It was! It was also a completely amazing experience that you can read about on my blog. While the riding was inspiring, it was also breathtaking; in more than one way! Besides the gorgeous views, there was the undeniable issue of high altitude. My day to day life (for now!) plays out in Columbus, Ohio, a city known for being flat and sits below 1,000 ft.
There is no doubt about it; training at altitude is a crucial part of every elite athlete’s training schedule. The change is noticeable at 5,000ft but most beneficial over 8,000 where the air is thinner which means the amount of oxygen you take in per breath is less than at sea level. This translates into less oxygen available to working muscles. Your body’s red blood cells compensate for this by ramping up the production of EPO to deliver more oxygen to the in need muscles. This bump in EPO is blamed for significant performance gains from training at altitude. Of course there is also the fact that most time spent altitude training is done in a camp or very focused training environment that includes longer efforts, more difficult terrain and higher power outputs.
Adding Intermittent Hypoxic Training (basically adding 1-3 weeks of altitude training into your season) is an excellent way for athletes to ramp up performance gains. However, there is a lot more to it than just flying to a mountain top locale and completing some workouts. A big change in your body’s physiology takes place that needs to be accounted for.
Here are some tips for nutrition + lifestyle when training at altitude:
>> Metabolic rate increases 10-20% at altitude.
> Example, if you typically need 2400 cal/day your altitude needs might be between 2640-2880.
> Know your current caloric needs and add at least 10% additional fuel during this training.
> Plan for consuming extra calories throughout the training period.
>> Your training load will likely be higher at during altitude training than normal.
>> Higher reliance on Carbohydrate used for energy.
> Increase the amount of carbohydrates being consumed during this training period. Before, during and after training sessions.
> Example: Add a glass of juice to breakfast. Eat a wrap or sandwich instead of a salad. Sip sport beverages throughout the day. Add an extra side of rice, pasta, or baguette to your meal. Snack on Pretzels instead of nuts. Have a glass of milk before bed.
> Add extra carbohydrates to your training; Instead of 1 GU/hr, try 2 or 3, instead of some gummies, pack something heartier like a sandwich.
> To avoid GI complications at camp, practice this higher fueling a week or 2 prior to camp.
>> All of this translates into MORE FOOD needed.
> Make sure to pack more food for workouts and have additional supplies on hand for before/after.
> If you have a sensitive stomach while training, start with small increases 2 weeks before training at altitude.
>> Breathing is more frequent and shallow; more water is lost through ventilation and there is less oxygen in each breath.
>> Carry water with you at all times and plan extra hydration stops during training sessions.
> Aim for 3-6 ounces sipped every 15 minutes.
>> Calculate your sweat rate and drink accordingly.
> Sweat Rate = (A + B) ÷ C
-- A = Pre-exercise body weight – Post-exercise body weight, recorded in ounces. (1 lb. = 16 oz.)
-- B = Fluid Consumed During Exercise, recorded in ounces. (1 cup = 8 oz; 1 gulp = about 1 oz)
-- C = Exercise Duration, recorded in hours. (40 min = .66 hr)
>> Using a diluted sport beverage throughout the day can help hydration and meet increased carbohydrate needs.
>> Avoid alcohol, as it can lead to worsened dehydration.
>> Studies do not support normal intake of caffeine use as being a diuretic, so continue use (just not excessively).
>> Practice drinking more prior to taking your altitude trip.
>> Body produces more red blood cells at altitude to help give muscles oxygen.
>> Iron Deficient athletes, a disease many athletes suffer from, will see more benefits as they have more iron to gain.
>> Get iron levels check 3 months prior to altitude training if possible.
>> Supplement if necessary with oral iron to better prepare your body. Consult your physician if you think you need a supplement.
>> Eat iron rich foods:
> Red meat, lentils, molasses, oats, sardines, liver, beans, cacao
>> Eat Vit C rich foods to facilitate the body’s iron absorption:
> Peppers, citrus, leafy greens, berries, papaya
>> Possible immune suppressing environment.
>> Not consuming enough carbohydrates will further decrease immunity.
>> Include antioxidants and high nutrient value foods.
>> Remember to include real food and not rely on simple sport foods for the majority of calorie intake.
>> Training camp is not the time to see significant weight loss so if you can, weigh yourself before, during and after the trip.
> While athletes love to lose, this is just not the time and any loss will likely be due to dehydration or be the result of under fueling the workouts which will lead to increased susceptibility to being ill and/or performance decreases.
>> If you’re training in a foreign place, make sure you pack training food that is normal to you and stick to basics outside your training.
>> Keep a food log along with your workout log.
>> Practice breathing techniques prior to your trip to keep your breathing controlled in the new environment.
>> Remember that at altitude, you may not be hitting the paces you are used to. Relax, you will reap the training benefits later on.
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