Running at High Altitude

19th January 2019
The higher the mountain, the lower the temperature. The same happens with the atmospheric pressure, a fact that automatically translates into a lower availability of oxygen.

It’s no secret that environmental changes dramatically affect athletic performance. Therefore, runners need special regimes when running at high altitudes.

These adaptations for high-level athletes are training and food. It’s about adapting to the specific conditions that occur thousands of feet above sea level.

Keep in mind that moisture decreases at altitude. A factor that when combined with a higher risk of sunburn, will increase the risks of dehydration.

Altitude sickness

Thirty percent of people ascending abruptly to heights higher than 10,000 feet above sea level will suffer with altitude sickness.

Girl running at high altitude.

Altitude sickness brings with it a series of symptoms that, beyond certain discomforts, can represent significant dangers for the health of those affected.

Nausea, general weakness, and breathing difficulties are the first symptoms to appear. The list also includes headaches, decreased mental agility and loss of reasoning ability. Altered emotions and apathy are other signs too.

Naturally, sports performance is also seriously affected. A factor that isn’t related to aerobic capacity, nor to the level of resistance. Poor adaptation to the conditions at altitude can make any plan unviable.

From less to more

Those who run at altitude need to acclimatize and adapt to the particular conditions, to be able to perform optimally. This is a process and it’s recommended that at least 30 days are spent in training.

The closer a person lives to the ocean, the harder it will be to acclimatize. While the decline in sports performance begins to become evident at altitudes above 7,000 feet above sea level, some people are affected much earlier.

The adaptation plans for altitude must consider the daily environmental conditions. After all, any change in the environment will always influence the results and the response capacity of the body.

High-altitude runners: work plan

Most of the programs whose objective is to adapt athletes to environmental conditions at high altitudes are divided into three segments. During the first week, a routine of comfortable exercises begins. Without too much intensity, or trying to force any attempt to reach the optimum goal quickly.

Man running at high altitude.

The next two weeks represent the key moment. During this period, athletes do need to be fully engaged. The goal is to maximize physical and even mental abilities.

Sometimes, the preparation to not give up can make a difference. Foot races or bike races must go together with a lot of anaerobic work. The strength and endurance of the entire muscle structure is another aspect that also needs to be optimized.

During the last four or five days, the intensity and workload must be decreased again. It’s time for the body to assimilate the training and finish adapting to the environment.

It should also be remembered that active rest, mid-tempo walks or stretching and relaxation exercises are especially recommended for this stage.

Food: more calories

The basal rate increases considerably the farther from sea level a person is. This is the minimum amount of calories required by the human body to efficiently fulfill all its vital functions, from breathing to moving.

The diet of altitude runners must be especially rich in carbohydrates. In addition to representing the best sources of energy, they have the ability to facilitate the transport of oxygen through the bloodstream at high altitudes.

Unsaturated fats also provide a good amount of extra calories, necessary to maintain performance under these conditions.

On the other hand, vitamin supplements are very helpful products. Especially vitamin E, one of the nutrients containing antioxidant properties.

Don’t forget that from 9,900 feet above sea level, oxidative stress is much higher. This significantly increases the risks of suffering from muscle injuries.