Altitude Training For Triathletes

Tips for Triathletes Racing at High Elevations in Triathlon

Altitude training aims to improve performance by increasing red blood cells which carry oxygen to the working muscles. This boost in red blood cell count allows athletes to perform at a higher level when competing at sea level.

The key is to train at a moderate altitude, ideally under 8,000 feet. If you train too high, your iron levels will not increase enough to see a response.

Altitude can present a unique challenge for triathletes preparing to compete in races held at high elevations. The decreased oxygen levels can have a significant impact on performance, making it crucial for athletes to adequately prepare both physically and mentally. In this blog post, we will explore various tips and strategies that can help triathletes acclimate to altitude and optimize their performance on race day.

Understand the Effects of Altitude on the Body

Before diving into specific tips, it’s important to understand how altitude affects the body. As you ascend to higher elevations, the amount of oxygen in the air decreases. This can lead to a range of physiological changes such as increased heart rate, elevated breathing rate, decreased exercise tolerance, and potentially even altitude sickness. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms and effects of altitude sickness, which can include headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.

The body’s immediate response to exercising at altitude is to produce more red blood cells, allowing it to carry more oxygen to the muscles. This increase in circulating oxygen levels improves the efficiency with which oxygen is used during exercise at altitude, increasing endurance and performance. This process, known as hypoxic training, also appears to have long-term benefits, improving oxygen delivery to the muscles even at sea level.

However, it takes the body several days to make these changes, and many triathletes choose to avoid altitude training until closer to their race day to minimize the potential impact on their fitness. Some athletes use products such as altitude tents that simulate reduced oxygen availability to stimulate these adaptations before racing at altitude.

For those who can train at altitude for a significant period, the ‘train high, compete low’ approach is popular amongst athletes. This involves living and training at a moderate to high altitude while racing at sea level. This allows the athlete to benefit from improved oxygen levels while avoiding some of the negative effects such as impaired breathing and fatigue.

In one small study, elite distance runners who trained at altitude for 28 days saw their VO2 max increase, meaning they could complete the same amount of work at a lower intensity than they could at sea level. Further, this effect lasted for a few weeks after the athletes returned to sea level.

A big disadvantage of this strategy is that the muscles are not accustomed to working at altitude and may be easily fatigued. This can be overcome by limiting the intensity of the workouts, ensuring adequate rest between sessions and tracking and adjusting heart rate during exercise to maintain an optimal workload.

In addition to the above, the athlete needs to stay properly hydrated. This is especially true during the initial phase of acclimatisation, as the body loses water and sodium through sweat during high-intensity exercise at altitude. Athletes should aim to consume at least 3-4 quarts of fluid per day, but not more than 7 quarts. This will prevent over-hydration that can lead to dehydration and a range of health problems including heat illness.

Train at Moderate Altitudes

If possible, consider incorporating some training sessions at moderate altitudes leading up to the race. Training at altitudes slightly lower than the actual race elevation can help stimulate adaptations in your body that will improve your performance when you reach higher altitudes. However, bear in mind that this strategy should be approached cautiously, as spending too much time at higher altitudes can increase the risk of overtraining and fatigue.

Optimize Your Nutrition and Hydration

During training at altitude, athletes need to make sure that they are getting enough energy from their food and drink. This is because the air at higher elevations contains less oxygen, which means that your body has to work harder to get the energy it needs.

This extra work requires more energy, which in turn can lead to fatigue and hunger. To avoid this, you must eat a well-balanced diet and maintain your normal eating habits when training at altitude. You should also be sure to consume adequate amounts of water and electrolyte-based drinks to counteract the increased fluid losses from diuresis and increased ventilation rate. It is recommended that you drink water early in the day, before and during workouts, and then drink a larger amount of water at night to reduce the need for frequent urination.

In addition, it is a good idea to supplement your meals with additional carbohydrates at altitude, as they can help provide an energy source for your muscles when you are exercising at a higher intensity. If you do not adequately eat and drink at altitude, you can run the risk of developing symptoms of altitude sickness, such as nausea, headaches and vomiting.

As you train at altitude, your body will begin to acclimate and you will start to see improved performance gains. In most cases, this will be in the form of a greater VO2 max and better work economy. Depending on the specific circumstances, however, you may also experience an increase in your power output or speed.

For athletes who are not able to spend long periods living and training at high altitudes, it is still possible to get the benefits of altitude training by simulating reduced oxygen availability. Gimmicky gadgets such as training snorkels and sleeping tents can be used to promote adaptations similar to those found at altitude by limiting the amount of oxygen that is available during exercise.

For elite athletes, living and training at altitude can increase their performance by 1 to 2 per cent. While this might not seem like much for an age-group athlete, it can mean the difference between winning and finishing second in a race.

Consider Altitude Training Methods

Altitude training methods, such as sleeping in a hypoxic tent or using altitude simulation devices, can help simulate the effects of high altitude when training at lower elevations. These methods aim to enhance the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently and improve endurance performance. Consult with a sports science professional or coach to explore whether altitude training methods may be beneficial for your specific training needs and goals.

Additional Aerobic Training

In addition to the acclimatisation process, athletes training at altitude need to be prepared for an increase in their endurance training workload. This is because the air at high altitudes has less oxygen which makes it harder for your body to get enough oxygen during exercise. This can also make your heart rate and breathing increase faster, making your workouts feel tougher.

A common approach to training at altitude is called “live high, train low”. This involves a triathlete living at a high elevation and doing light training there, but then completing their hard training down at sea level where they can take advantage of more oxygen-rich air. This type of training can lead to increased red blood cell levels, which can help athletes perform better at sea level.

While some argue that this type of training does not actually improve performance, it is clear that it can have a positive effect on an athlete’s overall ability. For example, studies have shown that training at altitude can significantly boost a person’s VO2 max. This metric measures how much oxygen the body can use during exercise, and a higher result means that you can go longer before your body starts to tire.

For this reason, many professional athletes choose to live and train at altitude for some of their preparation before a big race. Having spent time at the same elevation as their competition allows them to get used to this low-oxygen environment and therefore compete at the highest possible level on race day.

However, it is important to remember that not everyone will respond the same way to training at altitude. It can be difficult for some people to get used to the thin air, meaning that their performance will suffer, despite having done the same type of training they would do at sea level.

The mountainous scenery around Bekoji is a huge draw, and the sports complex has everything that an athlete could need for their training. This includes a 400m running track, a 50m swimming pool, indoor athletic tracks, and several gyms and turbo trainers. The facility also has on-site medical assistance, test labs, and a sauna area with recovery baths.

Implement Interval Training

Interval training can be particularly useful for racing at high altitudes. By alternating between intense bursts of effort and periods of recovery, interval training helps improve your body’s ability to tolerate and recover from high-intensity efforts commonly encountered in triathlons. Incorporate interval sessions into your training regimen to prepare yourself for the race’s demanding sections.

Practice Mental Preparedness

Mental Preparedness

The key to a successful altitude training block is to listen to the body and take things easy, especially in the first 10 days. The temptation is to turn up and smash it as hard as you can, but if you do so early on you will have less of an effect and won’t be able to get the full benefit from the block.

The lower levels of oxygen at altitude make the cardiovascular and respiratory systems work harder to transport oxygen to the muscles. After a few weeks, however, the body begins to produce more red blood cells, and the athletes can work harder with less oxygen, resulting in improved performance. This is the reason why so many elite athletes live at elevation, and why some choose to race at altitude even when they are trained for sea-level events.

Some athletes may experience altitude sickness when travelling from a low to high elevation, which can include symptoms such as shortness of breath, increased heart rate and dizziness. However, these symptoms typically appear within the first few days of exposure and should subside with time.

As a general rule, athletic performances at altitude are impaired in events with a significant aerobic component (eg running and cycling). Conversely, activities which have a greater anaerobic element – such as power-based sports – are more likely to be enhanced compared to sea level.

While it is possible to train at altitude and still perform well at sea level, this will require an athlete to have a higher base fitness than would otherwise be necessary. For this reason, it is preferable to allow for a minimum of three weeks at altitude to achieve the most physiological adaptations.

For those with tight race schedules, simulating reduced oxygen availability by using products such as altitude tents or masks before a competition at an elevated location can be beneficial, as it will allow the athlete to familiarise themselves with the effects of racing at higher elevations and adjust their pacing accordingly. Ultimately, however, the decision to race at altitude is best made by each athlete, based on their specific needs and the results of previous racing and training at altitude.

Test Your Gear and Equipment

Before heading to an altitude race, take the time to test your gear and equipment in similar altitude conditions during your training sessions. This ensures that you are comfortable and familiar with your gear’s functionality, prevents any last-minute surprises, and allows for necessary adjustments to be made if needed.

Be Mindful of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of their fitness level or athletic ability. Pay attention to your body’s signals while acclimating and racing at high elevations. If you experience symptoms such as severe headaches, vomiting, or shortness of breath, it is crucial to seek medical assistance immediately and not push through the discomfort.

Preparing for altitude is a vital aspect of a triathlete’s training when competing at high-elevation races. Adequate acclimatization time, proper nutrition and hydration, specific training methods, mental preparation, and testing gear are all crucial components to optimize performance and minimize potential setbacks. By employing these tips and techniques, triathletes can confidently tackle altitude challenges and compete at their best in their chosen races. Remember to always consult with healthcare professionals or sports scientists for personalized advice tailored to your individual needs.

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