Altitude Training for Improved Cycling Performance
Whether you’re planning on ascending high into the Alps or Rockies, or just want more power for crushing your buddies in sea-level criteriums and road races, breathing in the thin air of high elevation may help you improve your performance. Cycling performance is largely a function of oxygen uptake, delivery, and utilization by the body; and altitude training, whether by traveling or sleeping in a tent, may help you bring more precious oxygen to your working muscles.
The Physiology of Altitude
with the lead group’s pace, or give you the ability to push their pace and put them under pressure. This is true whether the climb begins at 25 m or 2500 m above sea level.
Before starting on an altitude training program it’s important to understand that proper altitude training is complex and success involves balancing some potential risks with proper nutrition, training, and rest. Some factors that have to be considered include:
a) iron status and ensuring adequate iron stores for optimal red blood cell production
b) increased risk of dehydration
c) poor sleep quality
d) prolonged recovery times
e) a reduction of maximal training intensity that may later negatively affect sea level performance
f) loss of heat acclimatization from training in cooler temperatures
g) suppression of appetite
h) immune system suppression with an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections
Simply put, there is no altitude training plan that will suit every athlete. An optimal program needs to account for your unique physiology as well as the physical demands of your goal event.
Live high, Train Low
Training at altitude for the purpose of improving sea level performance is perhaps one of the most controversial topics in altitude training. Overall, research tends to favor the Live High-Train Low (LHTL) protocol. The key component of LHTL training is that interval workouts at sea level intensities are maintained, while still gaining the benefits of altitude acclimatization by living at altitude.
Since there are not many places where you can live between 2,100 m (6,890 ft) and 2,700 m (8,800 ft) for at least 8-10 hours a day, and descend to train below 1250 m (4100 ft) for improved workout quality, many people use artificial altitude environments to sleep at simulated elevation wherever their home happens to be. These tents and rooms create a hypoxic environment for sleeping, which may allow you to achieve many of the same benefits normally seen from living high above sea level. It is very important to use a tent or room properly, as many factors, including iron status, sleep quality, training intensity, sleeping “elevation”, and individual variability govern whether you will see significant progress or none.
For the LHTL method to work, whether you’re actually traveling back and forth or climbing into a tent, there are some factors you have to keep in mind:
1) You need at least four weeks of LHTL training and living to reap any substantial benefits and you’re most likely going to schedule this period as a lead-in to competition.
2) Since you’re spending considerable time at altitude each day, adequate recovery periods between workouts is critical. You may need more recovery between interval workouts than you did when you were sleeping and training in low-elevation conditions.
3) Your sea-level competition should take place within 2-3 weeks after LHTL training. Most athletes require at least a week after a LHTL camp to feel “race ready.”
Competing at Altitude
When preparing for competition at altitude there are basically three choices, as listed below in order of preference.
Arrive at altitude at least three