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High Altitude Training

High altitude training is a unique style of training for elite athletes only. It involves training at altitudes higher than sea level, usually at least 1500 metres (4,921 feet) above sea level.

This type of intense training is beneficial for an athlete whom participates in a sport that has a large aerobic or endurance component.

Athletes that are most likely to benefit from high altitude training are:

1. Cyclists
2. Endurance runners (half-marathon, marathon)
3. Mixed martial art fighters (MMA fighters)
4. Rowers

5. Soccer players
6. Triathletes
7. Wrestlers

While it's likely that high altitude training benefits anaerobic/power athletes (tennis, sprinting, volleyball) as well, the research in inconclusive.

Training at high altitudes is very tough because the air is thinner. As a result, endurance athletes find it hard to maintain their regular pace, while anaerobic athletes find it harder to consistently perform high intensity activity.

The main benefits of altitude training are:
  •  enhanced aerobic fitness via improved oxygen uptake, V02 Max and new red blood cells. 
  •  increased tolerance to pain (provides you with a mental edge when competing at sea level)
  •  potential enhancement of anaerobic fitness (more research is need to confirm this)
  •  enhanced lactate threshold (increase in your ability to perform high intensity activity for a longer duration of time before fatiguing - this is different from aerobic fitness)
  •  enhanced recovery ability during and after workouts
Keep in mind that all these advantages is only applicable for competition at sea level.

If you want a more scientific explanation of the benefits, here are the physiological changes that occur:
  •  production of new red blood cell as a result of oxygen deprivation
  •  increase in haemoglobin (protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body)
  •  reduce cell age
  •  decrease lactate concentration
  •  decrease ammonia concentration
  •  increase in aerobic power (VO2 Max)
  •  enhanced buffer capacity
You may experience some of the possible negative effects of high altitude training such as:
  •  noticeable decrease training intensity
  •  altitude sickness, also known as mountain sickness 
  •  loss in muscle mass and/or fitness, resulting from the reduction of training intensity caused by failure of the body to properly  acclimatize 
  •  fatigue
  •  headaches
  •  weight loss
  •  trouble sleeping
  •  iron loss

Altitude Training Tips

1. Increase your calorie intake by 300 calories to compensate for increased metabolism.
2. Start high altitude training 5-6 weeks before competition (3-4 weeks of high altitude training followed 15 days of sea level training).
3. Train at altitudes between 2200 metres (7,217 feet) - 3,500 metres (11,482 feet) to negate the effects on training intensity and altitude sickness.
4. If you do get mountain sickness, stop training and descend immediately. This is the only cure.
5. Drink a lot of water to compensate for increased respiration.
6. Take iron supplements to facilitate new red blood cell production.
7. Take vitamin C supplements to facilitate the absorption iron.

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