Is Altitude Training the way to Fitness?
All athletes seek a competitive advantage. Although the benefits of some interventions (like training, for example) are clear, most strategies are less well proven. Altitude is no exception to this. Competitive athletes have used training at high altitude as a means of improving their potential. However, despite a good deal of research into the topic, its true effects and a recommended approach are still not well established. Additionally, altitude training is usually expensive and fraught with logistical problems.
Benefits of Altitude Exposure
Exposure to high altitude could theoretically improve an athlete’s capacity to exercise. Exposing the body to high altitude causes it to acclimatise to the lower level of oxygen available in the atmosphere. Many of the changes that occur with acclimatisation improve the delivery of oxygen to the muscles -the theory being that more oxygen will lead to better performance. For any type of exercise lasting longer than a few minutes, the body must use oxygen to generate energy. Without it, muscles simply seize up and can become damaged. This type of exercise is called aerobic exercise, meaning with oxygen. The body naturally produces a hormone called erythropoetin (EPO), which stimulates the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles. Up to a point, the more blood cells you have, the more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles. There are also a number of other changes that happen during acclimatisation, which may help athletic performance, including an increase in the number of small blood vessels, an increase in buffering capacity (ability to manage the build up of waste acid) and changes in the microscopic structure and function of the muscles themselves.
Problems of Altitude Exposure
However, acclimatisation to high altitude is not simple, and there are a number of other effects that could cancel out the above benefits. For example the increase in red...