What should I know before training at elevation?

When training at elevation, it is crucial to consider how the new environmental conditions will affect your body. For instance, lower oxygen concentration, lower air pressure, and extreme temperatures will require your body’s biological functions to adapt [3].  

Nutrition

In terms of nutrition, research shows that chronic high altitude exposure is correlated with significant weight loss. Note that this weight loss is often from fat-free mass. In other words, this type of weight loss could originate from muscle loss which is detrimental for athletic performance. This weight loss is due to various reasons related to your physiological functions adapting to the new climate [3]. 

  1. For instance, hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen in body tissue, due to lower atmospheric oxygen concentration can lead to feelings of suppressed appetite and consequently lower caloric intake [3]. 
  2. Poor sleep quality can also cause weight loss and insomnia is a common issue that many athletes report facing [3]. 
  3. Some studies have shown that simply increasing the number of calories consumed did not effectively prevent this weight loss. Instead, increased protein intake seemed to be more effective, especially when the amino acid leucine was consumed in greater amounts [3]. 

General recommendations state that an athlete’s caloric intake should be made up of around 60% carbs, 25% fat, and 15% protein. Dehydration often occurs at high altitudes as well, so it is important to consume enough fluids while training at elevation [3]. 

Immunity

Another important factor to consider is the effect of high elevation training on your immune system. Research shows that athletes who train at higher elevations demonstrate a higher infection rate! [1]

But why does this happen? 

We know that intense workouts can actually suppress the immune system, leading one to become more prone to getting sick [1]. This has especially been documented when athletes fail to recover after a long endurance event with the proper amount of protein. Without adequate protein consumption within a 2 hour window post exercise, individuals show an increased risk for upper respiratory tract infections [2]. 

When training at higher altitudes, the body faces many more environmental factors that can put additional stress on the immune system. For instance, poor sleep quality, weight loss of fat-free mass, improper nutrition, and hypoxia can all diminish athletic performance, but they can all compromise the body’s immune system as well [3] [1]. 

Final Thoughts

So, if you plan on training or competing at higher elevations this race season, make sure that you are properly hydrating and fueling your body! Practice good sleep hygiene before arriving at your higher elevation climate and let your body acclimate to the new environment before diving into intense workouts. Listen to your body and seek appropriate medical help if necessary.

If you would like more tips on training at elevation, check out our Heat and Elevation Training Guide!

Please note that this blog post is created strictly for educational purposes and should never be used for medical diagnosis and treatment.


References:

  1. Koehle, M. S., Cheng, I., & Sporer, B. (2014). Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine position statement: athletes at high altitude. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine24(2), 120–127. https://doi.org/10.1097/JSM.0000000000000024
  2. Cintineo, H. P., Arent, M. A., Antonio, J., & Arent, S. M. (2018). Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Frontiers in nutrition5, 83. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00083
  3. Khodaee, M., Grothe, H. L., Seyfert, J. H., & VanBaak, K. (2016). Athletes at High Altitude. Sports health8(2), 126–132. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738116630948
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