Altitude Training

This week my boyfriend Simon and I will be starting a two-week altitude training camp, staying at La Borda de Conangle Mountain Lodge at 2000m above sea level. Simon and I are using this camp in preparation for some big race goals coming up, for me, I am using this altitude camp as the last part of my preparation before my first UCI Gravel World Cup, La Indomable in Berja, Spain. Shortly after, I will be racing the Traka on May 1. Both races are big goals of mine, and I am hoping spending time at altitude, will get me to the best possible shape for both races. In this blog, I will go over why I am doing a training camp at altitude and important things to consider and to track while living at altitude, such as nutrition, sleep, heart rate, and measuring my oxygen saturation.

I see more and more professional cyclists spending time at altitude to prepare for key parts of the season. There is a lot of scientific evidence for the benefits of training at altitude. Studies have shown that training at altitude increases VO2 max, can decrease heart rate both during rest and during exercise, increasing muscle protein and the stimulation of red blood cells. Often when living at altitude, you hear the saying “Live high, train low” this is because there is much more oxygen at sea level and once you go further up at altitude the air becomes  thinner, it is harder to breathe, and your power starts to decrease. It is also interesting to note that not everyone responds well to altitude, and just because someone responds well does not mean you will. It is also important to be cautious of how hard you train, maximize your recovery, and pay close attention to how your body responds. One of the biggest factors in feeling good at altitude
is nutrition as well as ensuring you stay on top of your iron. If possible, having blood work done prior to going to altitude would be beneficial to make sure your body is functioning well, particularly paying attention to iron. If something seems off, going to altitude could cause more harm than good in the long run. Planning your nutrition correctly with iron rich foods as well as topping up with an iron supplement is something to consider, and something I will be doing. Not only is iron important but staying well fueled and having enough carbohydrates is extremely important. To make this easier for us, I planned out meals for each day we are at altitude and adapted certain meals depending on training days. But overall, each meal is kept simple and focuses on high quality foods with high carbohydrates. Altitude can cause a lot more stress on the body and dialing your nutrition should be a top priority.

Proper rest and recovery are also very important to be on top of when at altitude. Sleep can be disturbed; you can become dehydrated as the air is drier and the potential risks of altitude sickness. You'll need to make sure you start with easy endurance training to adapt during the first few days and then go into harder training. But again, keep in mind everyone is different and your reaction to altitude may be different than someone else. This is why it is important to focus on individual needs, your heart rate, HRV, sleep and other metrics to monitor how your body is adapting. Make sure you watch for any signs of headaches, loss of appetite, nausea, and poor sleep while at altitude. Some good things to consider is to stay on a consisted sleep schedule, try to nap after training, use different recovery tools that you have access to such as a foam roller, compression boots, massage gun and stretching, yoga and mobility. I know it is not “fun” but ideally, you want to do the least amount possible. When Simon and I are at altitude we will ride, train, and recover and not much else, other than completing my schoolwork and watching some new movies! Take advantage of your time at altitude and do everything you can to make the most of it so you feel stronger at the end.

I wanted to finish the blog with some of Simon’s top tips when he is training at altitude. He has done multiple team camps at altitude and has some good tips to have a successful camp!

Here are his top 3 tips:

1. Don’t train too hard, just let the altitude do the work.

2. Stay healthy and eat more than you would normally. It is easy to lose weight at altitude and this could risk not getting the benefits at being at altitude.

3. Enjoy your time and have everything organized. Plan ahead so you can just focus on training and recovery.

I hope you enjoyed this blog! Stay tuned for next week!

March 24, 2024 — Zach Spinhirne-Martin

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