Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to Acclimate: For Athletes (Part 2 of 2)

In the first part of this series I mentioned a few ways that people could adjust to higher altitude. Today I will suggest some details that help the process move along.

When I say athletes I only mean people doing something physical. That could be a few days of hiking or skiing it doesn't have to be a competitive sport. In my experience at altitude people can often react very negatively to the change in altitude. In fact the only place I have seen people throw up is after the first day of backpacking when they ascended too fast. So all of the suggestions from yesterday stand. Just because you think you are trained better than an average person doesn't mean you can ascend faster. So here are some additional recommendations.
  1. Be patient. It takes three weeks before your body produces the extra red blood cells to allow you to transport the limited oxygen. I believe there are other changes as well that occur within the first month so it is important to remember that just because you feel better on day four than day two doesn't mean you are acclimated yet.
  2. Don't compare the quality of a workout directly to the same one performed at sea level. In 2002 I was hiking up the north ridge of Mt. Elbert. There is a plateau at about 13,500 feet that is nearly flat and about half of a mile long. It took me an entire hour to walk that half mile. At sea level I could probably crawl a half mile in an hour. What I'm saying is that that half mile at 13,500 feet is not the same as a mile at 500 feet. Comparisons can be made to workouts at altitude and those at sea level but that comparison should also rely on how the workout felt, if it was harder, easier or about the same as something at a lower altitude. Then it is up to the athlete to decide if it felt better or worse, as in where is an ideal training location.
  3. Get your rest! Recovery is harder at altitude because there is not enough oxygen to use for repairing your body. After exercise there are micro-tears in your muscles and they heal faster when there is more oxygen available.
  4. Eat! I think that it just takes more calories to sustain life at higher altitudes than it does at lower altitudes. This could be because you heart and lungs are working harder to keep you alive. So you may need to consume some extra calories, or end up losing weight.
Pretty simple and pretty effective.

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