The Physiology of Altitude: What Training at 10,000 Feet Does to Your Body

Training at altitude is widely believed to be advantageous for athletes. If you’ve ever gone from sea level to higher elevations, you know that physical exertion can be a challenge. How do our bodies respond to altitude?

high altitude training

Air pressure and density decrease with altitude, which means that there’s less available oxygen. Breathing becomes more difficult in these conditions known as “thin air”.

The body starts working hard to adjust to these changes. That’s why we experience the physiological adaptations such as increases in:

  • Red blood cells
  • Lung size
  • Hematocrit and hemoglobin concentration

These changes allow the body to develop an improved capacity for delivering oxygen to the body. Athletes that have properly acclimatized by living or training at higher altitudes have shown to perform better at lower elevations.

Interestingly, formal studies haven’t proven out the improved performance from altitude training. Yet with so many athletes moving to Flagstaff (at 7,000 ft) or Boulder (at 5,328 ft), it’s hard to deny the advantages.

Today, we’re talking to a runner who took his high altitude training seriously. Not only is he paying attention to how he performs at 9,600 feet, he’s also using a test to track important indicators to see how his body adapts.

Benefits of Training at Altitude

Today’s podcast guest is Jonathan Levitt. He is a sub-3 marathoner, sales manager for InsideTracker, and host of the For The Long Run podcast. We are catching up with him after he spent 2 months in Breckenridge, Colorado, training at around ten thousand feet.

Jonathan shares not only anecdotal stories of how his body is responding, be he also has the data to back it up. He is lucky enough to have a team of experts helping him figure out how to adjust to altitude.

In our conversation, Jonathan and I talk about:

  • Adjusting workouts when first moving to higher altitude
  • Increasing fitness with decreasing intensity
  • Biomarker changes after 2 months
  • Importance of fundamentals like sleep and nutrition

Hear a little excerpt from Jonathan where he talks about the unexpected improvements that he has experienced:

This was a fun and informative conversation that I hope you’ll find interesting as well. Check out the full podcast below.

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunesSpotifyStitcheriHeartRadio, or Google Play.

Links & Resources from the Show:

Thank you Elemental Labs!

Elemental Labs

A big thanks to Elemental Labs for their support of this episode! They make electrolyte drinks for athletes and low-carb folks with no sugar, artificial ingredients, or colors.

They’re also offering free product: just pay for shipping and you can get their sample pack including 8 packets of citrus, raspberry, unflavored, and orange salt varieties.

Elemental Labs’ products have some of the highest sodium concentrations that you can find. Anybody who runs a lot knows that sodium, as well as other electrolytes like magnesium and potassium, are essential to our performance and how we feel throughout the day.

The citrus flavor has quickly become my favorite and I’m drinking one a day now to help me get enough fluids in our dry Colorado air. It’s tasty and delicious and I find that I’m not peeing every 45 minutes throughout the day, which might be an indication I wasn’t eating enough sodium.

There’s now mounting evidence that higher sodium intake levels are not unhealthy – and athletes need substantially more than your typical sedentary person. Of course, ask your doctor if you’re worried. But for those athletes running outside in the heat, an electrolyte replacement makes a lot of sense.

So check out Elemental Labs to try their sample pack for free and get your hydration optimized for the upcoming spring season.

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