The good and bad of high altitude training for Athletes

mountain bike

Mountain biking is quite different from plane-based cycling sports. Apart from a rougher and slightly riskier terrain, you have to deal with a different weather at the mountain. At mountains, the oxygen concentration and pressure is lesser, and that can have a pretty substantial effect on some people. Some people cannot tolerate low density of oxygen and lose conscious. During a trail race event, this could seriously injure the person and could also be fatal. Therefore, before you get into any sort of mountain racing event, or start training for mountain biking, you should learn about the good and the bad of racing at high altitude.

According to a research paper that studied effects of moderate altitude, from 1500 to 3000 meters, for 2 to 4 weeks, it was found that unlike popular belief, altitude training did not create enough stimuli to increase the volume of red blood cells in our body. It was also found that even haemoglobin concentration remains roughly the same. While there are several benefits of working out away from pollution of the cities, this research states that it doesn’t increase oxygen carrying capacity of blood. If you don’t know, haemoglobin is the component of blood that is responsible for transporting oxygen to various parts of the body. But if you though that they are no benefits to training at high altitudes, then you are wrong because with acclimatization to high altitudes, lactate production decreases and lactate clearance sees a boost.

mountain bike

Lactic acid is produced by our body during anaerobic respiration. When we workout at very high intensity, our body is not able to produce required energy with the regular aerobic energy generation method. Therefore it has to follow anaerobic respiration, which produces lactate acid in the body. If you have sprinted very heavily at some point, you must have noticed that after the workout sessions, you begin to feel cramps in your body. These cramps are a result of lactic acid and by working out at high altitudes, you get less of these.

In addition, working out at high altitude, results in increased ATP production, per mole of oxygen. For every task we perform, we need energy, and that energy is supplied to our body from a chemical process where ATP or adenosine tri-phosphate is broken down by the body for the energy. This is an aerobic process, which means oxygen is requires for this chemical process to happen. Working out at high altitudes results in better utilization of oxygen for generation ATP energy, this means that our body become more efficient in oxygen utilization.

So, how do all these studies help a competitive cyclist?

Well, for starters, as you read above that working out at high altitudes results in better oxygen utilization, during plane-based cycling events, you will be less likely to lose your breath. Your body will become capable of producing more energy with less amount of oxygen and in the long run, it will increase your stamina and boost your performance.

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