Nutritional Considerations for Training at Altitude
article by Clare Wood
Occasionally athletes will travel to an high altitude area for training. While there is some great evidence for physiological benefits of doing this, you need to be aware of the potential effects on your nutritional status.
Exposure to high altitude results in an increase increased utilization of blood glucose as a fuel at rest and during exercise. With a heavy training load the body requires a greater than usual amount of carbohydrate for energy. The shift for fuel usage is from fats to carbohydrate, and hence a corresponding reduction in the use of dietary fat and stored fat.
Acclimatization at altitude causes a reduction in total body water and plasma (or blood) volume. Given that the air can be cold and dry more fluid is also lost while breathing. These increased losses necessitate greater fluid intake than at sea level to stay well hydrated.
Changes in Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Basal metabolic rate increases at altitude. It is important to increase energy intake to match this increase in BMR.
Living at high (>2500-m) altitude can cause AMS or acute mountain sickness. You may experience a loss in appetite, nausea and/or vomiting, and hence a reduction in your food intake.
There are a few reasons to explain the common loss in body weight at altitude.
- Fluid losses result in weight loss
- Protein metabolism changes and weight loss is often due to a slight reduction in muscle mass
- BMR is slightly higher at altitude increasing energy expenditure
- Altitude sickness may reduce the quantity of food you eat
When the oxygen in the environment is low, your body needs to adapt to increase the circulation of oxygen around the body. This is partly achieved by increasing hemoglobin in the blood. There is an increased need for iron to support the production of hemoglobin, meaning an increase in dietary requirements of iron.
- Athlete Nutrition When Traveling to a Cold Climate
- Nutrition for Winter Sports
- Hypoxia Training — training at altitude or simulated altitude to improved oxygen delivery during exercise.
- Tips for Beating Jetlag