One of the biggest challenges of living at sea level is preparing for races at altitude. For the majority of endurance athletes in the US, this challenge will be faced fairly often if any events in the Rockies or Sierra's find there way onto your schedule. And a very common question is 'how do I prepare'? Is it hopeless unless you spend multiple weeks at altitude beforehand? I'd say definitely not. And here are the top tricks I've found to help prepare for events at altitude while living/training at/near sea level:
Nutrition is always one of my favorite topics because it can provide a solution to just about any training challenge you're facing when combined with proper training and recovery. The advantage that people who live at altitude have is more red blood cells flowing through their veins, delivering oxygen to muscles. With certain training techniques (we'll discuss these later), even athletes at sea level can trigger the mechanisms necessary to increase red blood cell production. The key now is to make sure your body has the necessary building blocks in order begin making these. This is where nutrition comes in.
The #1 limiting factor in red blood cell production is iron deficiency. As endurance athletes, we're almost always deficient in this micronutrient. So 2 months out from race day, incorporate a high-protein food that is high in iron in all three meals of the day. Good examples of high-iron foods are lentils, kidney beans, spinach, red meat (and other meat), even fortified cereals.
- V02 Workouts
Now that you have what it takes to increase red blood cell production, how do you help jumpstart that process? The key here is tricking your body into thinking it isn't getting enough oxygen. This is where lots of v02 workouts come into place.
v02 is the point at which your body is consuming more oxygen to power your muscles than it can take in. v02 workouts therefore are explosive, high-intensity workouts where you are essentially over your limit and in the "red zone" for certain durations of time. While everyones training plan is different depending on experience and the event they're getting ready for, utilizing this training zone in some capacity whenever it fits into your plan is key to initiating red blood cell production.
This one seems like a given, but it's very often overlooked. Hydration is one of the biggest challenges at altitude. In a mild, moist climate at sea level, you can get away with consuming less water with relatively mild consequences. So getting in the habit of drinking a lot and frequently while riding is very important before you arrive at your high-altitude race.
Being fully hydrated is also important in mimicking the effects of having more red blood cells and helping to increase red blood cell production. When you are fully hydrated, you have a higher blood volume. This means that blood is very efficiently traveling throughout your body and delivering oxygen and nutrients to muscles.
This one may also seem like a given, but the biggest thing that is hindered at altitude is recovery. So if you show up to your event over-trained or still feeling some of the effects of your last training block, it will likely only get worse until race day once you're in the mountains. Being very disciplined with your rest and recovery in the month leading up to your race is key in getting the most out of all of your hard work and preparation.
With race season fully upon us, I hope these tips help you reach all of your goals in 2017!