Perhaps nothing in endurance sports carries the sort of mystique that altitude camps carry. It’s a marker of the seriousness with which we take our training when we go to altitude for a few weeks, build up that natural EPO, and return home to crush our friends and rivals.
But is it really that simple? Do we see those mythical gains promised to us from time in the high mountains? The answer is a definitive no, followed by a maybe, followed by a clear yes if you do it right. The truth is that there are responders and non-responders to altitude. To take it a step further, many adaptations to altitude take time, take very high altitudes, and not all those adaptations are positive. Doing an altitude camp right takes careful planning and monitoring.
Here to help us navigate through the many landmines of altitude training is one of the top experts on the subject, Dr. Peter Hackett. He is the director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine. Dr. Hackett has spent decades researching altitude in the Himalayas, Denali, South America, and Colorado. Joining him is Jon Jonis, the founder of Mountain Air Cardio, here in Boulder. Jonis built a company that tries to help athletes get the benefit of hypoxic exposure without having to deal with the negative consequences of training at high altitude.
Along with our two experts, we’ll hear from a host of coaches, athletes, and physiologists, including Dirk Friel, the founder of TrainingPeaks, and Tim Cusick, who develops the WKO+ training software. Jim Miller, the head of High Performance at USA Cycling, will talk about running altitude training camps. Payson McElveen, host of the popular Adventure Stache podcast, will talk about living at altitude as an athlete. Dr. Robert Kenefick, the senior Vice President of Research and Development at Entrinsic Health Solutions, will share his thoughts on supplemental oxygen. Finally, Dr. Andy Pruitt, Colby Pearce, and Todd Carver will discuss the downside of training at altitude.
So, dial up your altitude tent to 11, and let’s make you fast!
Brothers, M. D., Doan, B. K., Zupan, M. F., Wile, A. L., Wilber, R. L., & Byrnes, W. C. (2010). Hematological and Physiological Adaptations Following 46 Weeks of Moderate Altitude Residence. High Altitude Medicine & Biology, 11(3), 199–208. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1089/ham.2009.1090
Burtscher, M., Gatterer, H., Faulhaber, M., Gerstgrasser, W., & Schenk, K. (2010). Effects of Intermittent Hypoxia on Running Economy. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 31(09), 644–650. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0030-1255067
Cerretelli, P., Marzorati, M., & Marconi, C. (2009). Muscle Bioenergetics and Metabolic Control at Altitude. High Altitude Medicine & Biology, 10(2), 165–174. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1089/ham.2008.1096
Chapman, R. F., Laymon, A. S., & Levine, B. D. (2013). Timing of Arrival and Pre-acclimatization Strategies for the Endurance Athlete Competing at Moderate to High Altitudes. High Altitude Medicine & Biology, 14(4), 319–324. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1089/ham.2013.1022
Flaherty, G., O’Connor, R., & Johnston, N. (2016). Altitude training for elite endurance athletes: A review for the travel medicine practitioner. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, 14(3), 200–211. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tmaid.2016.03.015
Flueck, M. (2010). Myocellular limitations of human performance and their modification through genome‐dependent responses at altitude. Experimental Physiology, 95(3), 451–462. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1113/expphysiol.2009.047605
GORE, C. J., CLARK, S. A., & SAUNDERS, P. U. (2007). Nonhematological Mechanisms of Improved Sea-Level Performance after Hypoxic Exposure. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 39(9), 1600–1609. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e3180de49d3
Green, H. J., Roy, B., Grant, S., Hughson, R., Burnett, M., Otto, C., … Johnson, M. (2000). Increases in submaximal cycling efficiency mediated by altitude acclimatization. Journal of Applied Physiology, 89(3), 1189–1197. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2000.89.3.1189
Gunderson, S., Chapman, & Levine. (2001). Live High Train Low Altitude Training Improves Sea Level Performance in Male and Female Elite Runners.
Hoppeler, H., Klossner, S., & Vogt, M. (2008). Training in hypoxia and its effects on skeletal muscle tissue. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 18(s1), 38–49. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2008.00831.x
Koivisto-Mørk, A. E., Paur, I., Paulsen, G., Garthe, I., Raastad, T., Bastani, N. E., … Bøhn, S. K. (2020). Dietary Adjustments to Altitude Training in Elite Endurance Athletes; Impact of a Randomized Clinical Trial With Antioxidant-Rich Foods. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, 2, 106. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2020.00106
Lundby, C., Calbet, J. A. L., Sander, M., Hall, G. V., Mazzeo, R. S., Stray‐Gundersen, J., … Levine, B. D. (2007). Exercise economy does not change after acclimatization to moderate to very high altitude. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 17(3), 281–291. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2006.00530.x
Michalczyk, M., Czuba, M., Zydek, G., Zając, A., & Langfort, J. (2016). Dietary Recommendations for Cyclists during Altitude Training. Nutrients, 8(6), 377. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8060377
Millet, Grégoire P, Faiss, R., Brocherie, F., & Girard, O. (2013). Hypoxic training and team sports: a challenge to traditional methods? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(Suppl 1), i6. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2013-092793
Millet, Gregoire P., Roels, B., Schmitt, L., Woorons, X., & Richalet, J. P. (2010). Combining Hypoxic Methods for Peak Performance. Sports Medicine, 40(1), 1–25. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2165/11317920-000000000-00000
Mujika, I., Sharma, A. P., & Stellingwerff, T. (2019). Contemporary Periodization of Altitude Training for Elite Endurance Athletes: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine, 49(11), 1651–1669. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01165-y
Neya, M., Enoki, T., Kumai, Y., Sugoh, T., & Kawahara, T. (2007). The effects of nightly normobaric hypoxia and high intensity training under intermittent normobaric hypoxia on running economy and hemoglobin mass. Journal of Applied Physiology, 103(3), 828–834. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.00265.2007
Płoszczyca, K., Langfort, J., & Czuba, M. (2018). The Effects of Altitude Training on Erythropoietic Response and Hematological Variables in Adult Athletes: A Narrative Review. Frontiers in Physiology, 9, 375. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.00375
Ponsot, E., Dufour, S. P., Doutreleau, S., Lonsdorfer-Wolf, E., Lampert, E., Piquard, F., … Richard, R. (2010). Impairment of maximal aerobic power with moderate hypoxia in endurance athletes: do skeletal muscle mitochondria play a role? American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 298(3), R558–R566. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpregu.00216.2009
Pottgiesser, T., Ahlgrim, C., Ruthardt, S., Dickhuth, H.-H., & Schumacher, Y. O. (2009). Hemoglobin mass after 21 days of conventional altitude training at 1816m. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(6), 673–675. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2008.06.005
Roberts, A. C., Butterfield, G. E., Cymerman, A., Reeves, J. T., Wolfel, E. E., & Brooks, G. A. (1996). Acclimatization to 4,300-m altitude decreases reliance on fat as a substrate. Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(4), 1762–1771. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1242
Robertson, E. Y., Saunders, P. U., Pyne, D. B., Gore, C. J., & Anson, J. M. (2010). Effectiveness of intermittent training in hypoxia combined with live high/train low. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 110(2), 379–387. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-010-1516-5
Saunders, Philo U, Pyne, D. B., & Gore, C. J. (2009). Endurance Training at Altitude. High Altitude Medicine & Biology, 10(2), 135–148. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1089/ham.2008.1092
Saunders, P.U., Telford, R. D., Pyne, D. B., Hahn, A. G., & Gore, C. J. (2009). Improved running economy and increased hemoglobin mass in elite runners after extended moderate altitude exposure. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(1), 67–72. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2007.08.014
Schmitt, L., Millet, G., Robach, P., Nicolet, G., Brugniaux, J. V., Fouillot, J.-P., & Richalet, J.-P. (2006). Influence of “living high–training low” on aerobic performance and economy of work in elite athletes. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 97(5), 627–636. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-006-0228-3
Schmutz, S., Däpp, C., Wittwer, M., Durieux, A., Mueller, M., Weinstein, F., … Flück, M. (2010). A hypoxia complement differentiates the muscle response to endurance exercise. Experimental Physiology, 95(6), 723–735. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1113/expphysiol.2009.051029
Solien, J., Haynes, V., & Giulivi, C. (2005). Differential requirements of calcium for oxoglutarate dehydrogenase and mitochondrial nitric-oxide synthase under hypoxia: Impact on the regulation of mitochondrial oxygen consumption. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 142(2), 111–117. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpb.2005.05.004