Many of you have already experienced training and racing at moderate to high altitudes (less than 5000m). Why might you do this? To achieve potential performance benefits… I’ll start with a reminder about how “training high and racing low” works.
The higher in elevation you go, the lower level of oxygen is in the air that you breathe. When you spend time at moderately high altitudes, physiological acclimatization to the area occurs with an increase in red blood cell production, blood flow, and oxygen binding capacity*. With more blood and oxygen delivered to your muscles and throughout the body, there’s a greater circulation of nutrients and oxygen, which may result in better performance.
This adaptation can be hard on the body when rushed and/or done improperly. Some adverse effects can include a weakened immune system, reduced training intensity, dehydration, loss of appetite, and reduced muscle adaptation. Don’t let this happen to you! This is completely avoidable with a few key nutritional strategies…. This month, I will focus on hydration at altitude since it’s easy to forget about when in a new environment.
How can my hydration assist with the body’s adaptation to promote the best results? I’m so glad you asked….
At higher altitudes, your respiration and ventilation increase, which leads to a greater loss of water from your body into the air. This happens both rest and during submaximal exercise. It is not uncommon to see a loss of ~200 – 1500mL/day of water! That’s about 1 – 6 fluid cups, or up to 1.5 large Nalgene bottles! Therefore, it’s essential to hydrate properly before, during, and after your training/racing- especially when training more than once/day. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
~ Ad libitum fluid intake (or drinking when you are thirsty) is not a good indicator of your actual hydration needs! Thirst is very often suppressed at altitude, and worsened by extreme heat/cold that might be experienced up high.
Prior to Exercise:
~ Begin your exercise sessions well hydrated. If you have access to a USG strip, use this to get instant feedback until you are hydrated.
~ Drink in between and during meals
~ You can even try to weigh yourself before you ride to get your base weight. This will be compared to your post-training weight, and calculated for your hydration needs.
~ Drink every 15-30 minutes (when possible) of water, water + sodium, dilute sports drink, or glycerol solution to equal ~ 200-500mL, or as frequently as you can.
~ Drink early in your training, and regularly throughout. If you need to, set your watch to beep every 15-30 minutes to remind yourself. You can even stash fluids on the course you are riding, or have extra fluids carried in a support car and instruct them to force fluids on you every so often.
~ Flavor the liquid or water if you want. Research shows that flavoring the liquids can increase the amount and frequency you drink. You can try a splash of apple juice, squeeze of lemon, or use flavored electrolyte drinks. Try varying the flavors in the bottles so you don’t get burned-out on a single flavor, but make sure to race with flavors and specific drinks you are used to.
~ Aim to drink cool fluids (if warm out) or warm fluids (if cold out) with 1-6% CHO + sodium to equal ~ 1.5 x sweat loss (L).
~ Once again, using a USG can be helpful to receive instant feedback about your hydration state.
~ Weigh yourself when you return from your training/racing. Compare this to your initial weight- and drink about 600mL (20oz) of fluid per pound body weight lost (this also works when not at elevation).
~ Sports drinks and warmed chicken/vegetable broth are ideal at this time.
~ Smoothies made with fruit, protein, and grains can conquer both hydration and your recovery snack! Check out the recipe below as a good post- training/racing liquid.
More General Notes:
~ Be careful not to increase the amount of caffeine you drink due to fatigue from training/racing, as this too will contribute to hydration loss. Instead, drink decaf coffee and herbal teas to replace their caffeinated counterparts.
And lastly, don’t forget to contact a sports dietitian for further advice on ascending to high altitudes. It’s best to seek them out at least one month prior to going for the best possible performance benefits.
The Elevated Smoothie
½ cup fresh or frozen blueberries
½ cup frozen tart cherries
½ fresh or frozen banana
½ cup cooked quinoa
1 handful raw spinach
1-2 scoops protein powder of choice or 2/3 cup Greek yogurt
1-2 cups water or almond/coconut/cashew/soy milk – unsweetened, original, or vanilla works best
Pinch of mineral sea salts
Sweeten with honey, agave, or maple syrup – do not be afraid to use 1-2 Tablespoons
Place the first 8 ingredients in a blender. Blend together until smooth and liquefied. Sweeten at the end for desired taste. Drink, and enjoy knowing your one step closer to complete hydration and performance adaptation…
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*To learn more about the physiological changes that occur, and training and racing at altitude, visit: www.altitude.org