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Sleep, Study, Train, Eat, Sleep
Sleep, Study, Train, Eat, Sleep
21yr old student at Kingston Uni, doing sport science.
2years in tri 1st serious one :)

Altitude a semi scientific view

mule35by mule35Mar 15th 2012
Hello followers, sorry for my delay in posting but I have had a busy period collecting data for my dissertation.

For the last month or so I have been racking up the bike miles, with the aim of not coming out of the little ring unless completely necessary. So far its doing well, I'm feeling stronger than ever on the bike and I am looking forward to smashing some races soon.

Today I did a VO2 max test in the university's brand new altitude chamber...and it sucks to say the least. Don't get me wrong I'm glad I did it and that I could help about another student. BUt altitude is mad.

I first was exposed to altitude when on rugby tour in 2008. My college went on tour to Namibia and South Africa and had played rugby at 1,753m in Johannesburg and Windhoek at a similar altitude. Its a weird feeling, whilst exercising sub maximally you do not feel too much of a difference, however once the intensity comes up you go into a hole world of hurt. For rugby tour I had the benefit of a few days acclimation, today I had 5min.

Let me explain what happens at altitude (I promised a sports science blog and I'm a man of my word). Is quite widely known that as you go higher, there partial pressure of oxygen decreases. Its a common misconception that there is less oxygen, but what actually is happening, is that due to the lower pressure of the air, the oxygen is more free to move. Evidently it spreads out which makes reduces the amount of oxygen available.

It is quite well documented that altitude reduces the exercise capacity of man. The effects are varied, power at VO2 max is reduced, power at lactate threshold is reduced and many many more. Observed today with my performance. Yesterday I did a VO2 max test and maxed out at 425W (not a great score I know, but not bad considering lack of training) and today (feeling quite fresh) managed an abysmal 385W. So an elevation of 2,500m caused a 45W reduction in power at VO2 max.

Training at altitude has long been a favourite of endurance athletes and their coaches for years. Due to the controversy amongst the sports science world, it is sometimes wondered why. The major drawback is altitude sickness, it is almost random in who it effects and who is not. It is not down to fitness or any perceivable variable, its completely random (there probably is a cause, but it hasn't been found).

Due to the reduced availability of oxygen the body adapts to the situation. It increases the red blood cell and therefore haemocratit and haemoglobin levels in the blood, similar to that by someone using EPO. Thus increasing the oxygen carrying capacity in the blood. This will allow the athlete (once back at sea level) to perform better due to an increase in fitness, which is associated with increased blood volume.

However the reduced ability to perform intensity and the seeming random selection for negative effects on performance at altitude makes racing at altitude difficult.

So your probably (not) thinking how can I reduce the effects of altitude on my race performance at altitude? There are two schools of thought. The live high train high and the live high train low theories. Altitude reduces the ability to perform at intensity well. Thus some studies have reported a decreased training effect from altitude interventions. This is where the theory of living high and training low theory comes in. The ability to do intensity work coupled with the large amount of time (from living) spent at altitude facilitates both the effect of living at altitude as well as the ability to train hard at sea level.

That is a very basic review on altitude, I could go into more depth but I could be writing forever.

So for me its back to the grindstone and hopefully some bike races.
TriBlogsby member: TriBlogs, Mar 18th 2012 23:34
Enjoyed your post, nice to have the scientific discussion! Hope your dissertation goes well!
 
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