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With the right nutrition to a successful altitude training camp

Photo: Tino Pohlmann

How to get through your altitude training camp in the best possible way

Why an altitude training camp?

Very many (professional) athletes go to altitude training camps every year to optimize their performance. Especially in endurance sports, the altitude training camp has gained acceptance.

The idea behind this is to optimize oxygen transport in the blood by stimulating the formation of red blood cells. Thus, at “normal” altitude, the performance is increased.

There are also other benefits of altitude training, such as increased buffering capacity.

The optimal training camp (according to science) takes place at an altitude of 2000-2400m and lasts two to four weeks.

The different types of altitude training

Live high – train high

Both the training and the rest of the stay takes place in the high altitude air.

Live high – train low

This concept involves training at a lower altitude than “living”. This is to avoid applying too little stimulus to the muscles – training intensity is reduced at high altitude due to the lower oxygen content. Training at altitudes below 1000m should therefore avoid that this intensity minimization weakens the muscles. Looser sessions and medium-intensity workouts can still be completed at higher elevations.

Live low – train high

If you want to take home as much performance optimization as possible from the training camp, you should also pay attention to nutrition when training in the high altitude air. After all, the altitude presents some challenges for the body.

Beware of a lack of energy at altitude

Most of the studies that were conducted dealt with an altitude of 3000-5500m. Here we found a decrease in protein synthesis and thus an increased protein requirement. Changes in fluid balance and carbohydrate requirements were also noted.

Significantly less data exist for stays at medium sea level. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that the results can be transferred to this lake level. Also because the effect of the high altitude air on the body is enhanced by all the training.

So it’s especially important that you provide your body with plenty of energy. Carbohydrate intake during training plays a major role in this. On the one hand, this prevents an energy deficiency and, on the other hand, a high energy intake in the training camp also optimizes the adaptation to the altitude air.

Reduced production of sex hormones (estrogen and/or testosterone) resulting from insufficient energy intake has been shown to inhibit hemolytic adaptation at altitude. This means that the desired effect of increased red blood cell formation is suppressed.

The risk of injury and especially infection is also significantly increased by insufficient energy intake, which causes harmful effects on the increase in hemoglobin mass.

While the increase of hemoglobin in healthy/uninjured athletes after altitude training camp was around 3-7%, the value was significantly reduced in injured or sick athletes.

In addition, estrogen is important for iron homeostasis because it suppresses hepcidin. It therefore leads to increased bioavailability of iron, which is very important (especially at altitude) for the formation of red blood cells.

It remains to be noted that a lack of energy in sports can be fatal not only in training camps, but also in “normal” everyday training you should avoid a lack of energy at all costs. Learn more HERE.

The right carbohydrate intake in high altitude training camps

You should pay special attention to carbohydrate intake at altitude. While it’s also important to energize your daily routine (for tips on how to do this, see HERE), you should take good care of yourself especially during exercise.

For casual, short sessions, you don’t necessarily need to add carbohydrates during your workout. However, make sure you add plenty of energy before and after the session.

For hard sessions up to an hour, you’re probably not taking in energy. At altitude you should also eat carbohydrates to help your body cope with the special challenges. Here would be suitable e.g. our FAST CARB. This provides you with quickly available carbohydrates and is also rich in antioxidants and minerals.

During endurance training you should consume at least 30g of carbohydrates per hour, for this you can use for example our SLOW CARB. If you are on the road for more than two hours, it is best to use 60-80g of carbohydrates per hour from the halfway point of the session.

To achieve this, use sports drinks/gels such as our POWER CARB or our GEL 40. If you resort to the matcha gel here, you’ll get an extra energy kick from the 100mg of caffeine.

Especially during endurance training, you can also sometimes go for solid snacks like our PORRIDGE BAR or PROTEIN BAR.

The protein bar provides you with high-quality protein from pure vegetable sources and supplemented with amino acids from fermented vegetables – and is therefore ideal as a source of protein during long sessions. This is especially important on altitude training camps, as a decrease in protein synthesis leads to an increased protein requirement.

For intense workouts, you need 40-60g of carbohydrates per hour. From the second hour the requirement increases to 60-100g.

During intense sessions it is a bit more difficult to take in solid food, which is why we recommend our FAST CARB/POWER CARB or our GELS.

For an overview of how to best eat during training, HERE along.

Regeneration is that important

During the training camp, both the volume and intensity of training is ramped up, which at the same time means that recovery plays a very important role. In order to regenerate as quickly as possible after training, the regeneration process should also be initiated as soon as possible after a unit.

For this you should use the so-called “Open Window”, which opens for half an hour after a training session. Within this half hour, your body is particularly receptive to the nutrients supplied. It is therefore important that you provide yourself with carbohydrates, proteins and minerals during this time.

The carbohydrates replenish your glycogen stores, the proteins supply your muscle cells and initiate the regeneration process ideally.

A good option for this would be for example our RECOVERY SHAKE. It provides you with all the necessary nutrients and extra cocoa for optimal – and delicious – recovery.

After particularly hard units would be suitable, for example, our RECOVERY 8. This contains all 8 essential amino acids and the power of mango to regenerate even faster.

More information and a detailed practice guide for optimal regeneration you will find HERE.

Recommendations for iron intake in altitude training camps

There are numerous factors that influence the formation of hemoglobin at altitude. The supply or availability of iron is one of the most studied factors.

Here, the preparation begins some time before the training camp. In fact, it is recommended to have a blood test 4-6 weeks before. Ferritin levels should not be too low here, as this could interfere with the formation of hemoglobin at high levels.

If your ferritin levels are <35ng/ml, you should start supplementing iron directly. You still have time to fill your iron stores before the start of training camp. For this, you should definitely get the advice of an expert/professional and do the iron intake under observation!

Current data indicates that 100-200mg of iron per day during training camp increases hemoglobin the most. Therefore, the current recommendations are to add 100mg of iron/day two weeks before the training camp. One week before, the dose is increased to 200mg of iron a day, this level is then maintained throughout the training camp.

Since iron is rather difficult to tolerate, gastrointestinal problems can occur with such high doses. If this is the case, the dose should be reduced again to 100-150mg/day.

It is important to mention that these recommendations are valid only for athletes whose ferritin level in blood test was <100ng/ml. For values between 100-130ng/ml ferritin, supplementation of 100mg iron per day is sufficient. This applies to the two weeks before the training camp, as well as for the entire stay.

If your blood work shows ferritin levels >130ng/ml supplementation is usually not necessary. However, you should seek expert advice to make this decision.

When you get back from training camp, you should also do blood work again to check your levels.

In addition to supplements, there are also natural foods and tricks to increase your iron intake. Iron-rich foods are mostly animal foods such as meat, but there are also plant foods that are iron-rich.

For example, seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds or flax seeds) and nuts contain a lot of iron. While you can’t eat these in large quantities at once, they make great toppings for cereals or salads, for example.

Green leafy vegetables and oats are also good sources of plant-based iron. Another tip is to add plenty of vitamin C to your meals, this promotes iron absorption in the body.

It is therefore best to take your iron supplements in combination with vitamin C as well. Drink, for example, an orange juice with it, but you should avoid taking milk and/or dairy products as well as coffee or black tea at the same time. 

Watch your fluid intake and antioxidants

High altitude air also affects fluid needs. At altitude, more air must be inhaled to absorb the same amount of oxygen as at sea level. This is because although the percentage of oxygen in the air remains constant, the absolute amount of oxygen is reduced due to the decreasing air pressure. This means that there are fewer gas particles in one breath.

In addition, each breath must first be warmed (especially in winter) and moistened before it reaches the lung tissue. For this, the body needs a lot of fluid. During intense or prolonged exercise, this alone results in a fluid loss of more than one liter.

That means you need to take extra good care to drink plenty of fluids. It helps if you also cover your energy needs through fluids, e.g. through Carbohydrate drinks.

To avoid dehydration, it is advisable to drink plenty of fluids even before the workout. During exercise, you should try to drink fluids at least every half hour. For shorter (<1h) sessions this is not essential, but make sure to drink plenty before and after your workout.

Due to the high altitude air, the oxidative stress in the body also increases. This occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and radical scavengers. 

Free radicals are oxygen compounds that are characterized by a missing electron, which makes them particularly reactive. 

To neutralize them, antioxidants – also called radical scavengers – are necessary. You will find them mainly in fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as in our products from natural sources. Not, however, from artificially added vitamins such as vitamin C or E, because in high doses these can reduce training adaptation.

You can also read about the exact effects of the individual ingredients in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ACTIVE INGREDIENTS.

Nutrition and Altitude: Strategies to Enhance Adaptation, Improve Performance and Maintain Health: A Narrative Review; Trent Stellingwerff, Peter Peeling et al.

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Robert Gorgos

Robert Gorgos

Robert is a authority when it comes to sports nutrition science. As a nutritionist, he coaches many well-known top athletes, including the professional cyclists from BORA – hansgrohe. At the same time, he is a competitive athlete himself. And: Robert has developed the sports nutrition of MoN Sports.

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