The demands placed on the body during high altitude training require endurance athletes to give extra attention to nutrition. There are no precise rules for this, as several factors come into play, including climate, workout intensity and needs of the individual. However, there are a number of general guidelines that endurance athletes such as triathletes should follow.
With this in mind, here are four nutrition tips for high altitude training:
High altitude training induces an increased breathing rate, which in turn causes a faster loss of fluids through the respiratory system. It is therefore necessary for a triathlete to drink more at high altitudes than he or she would for the same quantity of training at sea level. Online site Triathete recommends carrying a hydration belt or handheld quick draw even for short runs at high altitudes to encourage a more frequent intake of fluids.
Fluid loss through sweat may be less apparent due to the faster evaporation of sweat in the thinner atmosphere. In such an environment, triathletes may believe themselves to be losing fewer fluids than they really are and refrain from drinking for longer, resulting in dehydration.
Basal metabolic rate (BMR), defined as the release of energy used by vital organs in order to function, increases with altitude, especially during initial training days. After some time spent acclimatizing, BMR drops but still does not reach base level. In addition, triathletes training at high altitudes will find that their appetite is slightly subdued. Unless extra attention is paid to meet caloric needs, body mass and muscle mass begin to decrease with hypoxia.
The body relies more on carbohydrates than fat stores at high altitudes. In such an environment, it is therefore useful to consume small, frequent meals that are rich in carbohydrates. This is a particularly useful practice when trying to maintaining energy levels during triathlon races at high altitudes. Sports drinks that are high in carbohydrates can also help triathletes meet their fluid and fuel needs.
The main purpose of high altitude training, especially for endurance athletes, is to promote the production of more red blood cells to increase oxygen capacity and oxygen transportation via the blood to the muscles. To create these additional red blood cells the body needs iron, which plays a central role in the manufacturing of hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell responsible for oxygen binding. An iron deficiency can, therefore, reduce or even eliminate the benefits gained by high altitude training.
For most triathletes, increasing iron intake through iron-rich foods such as lean red meats is usually sufficient. Those who are naturally low in their iron stores may find it useful to take iron supplements.
High altitude training can stress the body in a way that affects the immune system, making triathletes susceptible to infections and injuries. Antioxidants are one of the best ways to help the body to adapt to the changed environment and to stay healthy. Some classic natural antioxidants include small red beans, blueberries, red kidney beans, pinto beans, blueberries, cranberries, artichoke hearts, blackberries, and prunes.
Though by no means an exhaustive list, following these four nutritional guidelines will help endurance athletes such as triathletes to better cope with the rigors of high altitude training.