Altitude Training

So this is the first of a few blog posts about how you can make the most of the training you’re doing and some of the physiological theory behind it.

I’ve just finished my undergraduate degree in sport, health and exercise science and I’ve realised that a lot of it is helpful to me and others who participate in sport at a competitive level. I believe it is important to know why you’re training like you are and what you should be looking for beyond the scores you get on the ergo. Understanding the training is key in knowing when you’ll peak and when you will feel the benefits of different training phases. This post is about altitude training and how it helps/what it does.

There is widespread acceptance that altitude training improves performance at altitude and at sea-level, however, what actually happens when the GB senior men train for 2 weeks in Silvretta as they have been? Why do teams go to altitude?

Altitude training is tough work. When you go up to the mountains, your VO2max decreases about 8% every 1000m you go up, this means that whilst you were sitting there pulling 1:50 splits at sea level, for the same effort you now have to look at 1:58s. But there is a physiological benefit and it’s the reason the guys rack up hundreds of miles in the mountains… More blood. So here’s some biology: When you go up to altitude (around 2000-3000m) the oxygen going through your system decreases, making it harder to exercise. Starving your kidney of oxygen encourages it to produce more Erythropoietin (EPO). This goes through the bloodstream and into the bone marrow where it tells the bone marrow to produce more blood. However, blood cannot be produced without iron, so when teams go up to altitude it is important that they intake iron (up to twice the recommended) in order to improve red blood cell count.

Is it worth it?

It’s pretty costly. More than just monetary costs. Going up to the mountains for a few weeks is more likely to cause illness in athletes. It’s also very important to get the training right; if you go up there and continue the same training, you’ll burn out and any change in physiology will be undone pretty swiftly. For club level athletes, the risks outweigh the potential gains. For national squad teams with a lot of money to spare, it may be worth the 1% increase in haemoglobin although the optimal time to race after coming down from altitude is 3 weeks, suggesting the GB team may be slightly premature in their ascent.

The takeaway message from this for those of us who cannot afford a hypoxic chamber is that iron supplementation may be handy, especially for those who are deficient. Also realising that keeping organs such as kidneys in good condition is quite helpful, therefore keeping hydrated is very important. If you are lucky enough to have a spare hypoxic chamber, a good idea is to use it when you sleep and then train during the day without any hindrance to get the maximal benefit.

That’s it for the first blog post. If you want to get in touch praising me for my knowledge or indeed correcting me then please do. The next blog will be about the stress of travel, steps to avoid jetlag as well as solutions to travelling and competing for optimal performance. Ciao.

– Rich Clarke

Regatta Sport kit can help support your training with Aero-Lite, Carbon Mesh and legs that won’t ride up. Whatever conditions you’re in.

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