WHY CALGARIANS HAVE A COMPETITIVE EDGE
By RYAN HAMILTON, INLIV EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGIST LEAD | FITNESS
You may have heard the term ‘altitude training’ for endurance events, but how exactly is it beneficial to performance? Athletes from many sports have used altitude training to prepare for a big match or event, and not just when the event will be at a high altitude. They do this because the air is thinner at high altitudes, meaning there are fewer oxygen molecules per volume of air. Every breath took in high altitude delivers less oxygen to the working muscles that require oxygen during exercise. Your body adapts to the difference in barometric pressure at high altitude. To compensate for the decrease in oxygen, one of the body’s hormones, erythropoietin (EPO), triggers the production of more red blood cells to aid in oxygen delivery to the muscles.
This adaptation can be very beneficial to someone who trains at high altitude and competes at a lower altitude. Once you return to sea level, you now have more red blood cells and hemoglobin (oxygen transporters), meaning potentially better performance in endurance events. While the effect is most dramatic at altitudes greater than 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) above sea level, it is noticeable even at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) above sea level. After regular altitude training, ideally, you then need to head to a competition at a lower elevation to take advantage of the changed physiology, which can last for 10 to 20 days.
You might have heard of EPO in news stories about performance-enhancing drugs. A synthetic version of EPO has been used by endurance athletes to mimic the body’s natural process of red blood cell creation. So far, most sports organizations are more concerned with this artificial version rather than triggering it naturally up in the mountains. So get out into the Rockies in our back yard and gain a competitive edge in a natural and enjoyable way.