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Foods To Eat At Altitude

by Dr. Jason Barker October 01, 2015

Foods To Eat At Altitude

When training or racing at altitude, changing your nutrition might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but this article might convince you otherwise.

As you ascend in altitude, less oxygen is available compared to sea level. In these conditions, hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen reaching the tissues will occur. Depending on the severity and rate of onset, hypoxia can cause some of the symptoms mentioned in our last blog post, How To Adapt To Altitude For Winter Sports.

Increase Carbohydrates For Energy

When it comes to nutrition, training at altitude increases the use of carbohydrates for energy compared to training at sea level. This means you may need to put more of an emphasis on carbohydrates in your pre-race or training meal and your overall diet. Inadequate carbohydrates may hinder performance and decrease the time by which you can exercise before bonking or reaching exhaustion. Focus on good quality carbohydrates, such as:

  • Dates
  • Bananas
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Oats rather than sugary foods and refined white grains.

Avoid increasing carbohydrates from sugary foods and refined white grains. Remember, vegetables are carbohydrates as well; increasing your intake can be a decent way to get additional nutrients in as well as healthy carbs.

Increase Iron

In addition, exposure to altitude increases the production of red blood cells to help carry oxygen around the body, which increases the need for iron. Animal foods contain iron that's well absorbed by the body. Animal foods such as:

  • Lean Beef
  • Pork
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • Salmon

Avoid combining these foods with calcium-rich foods like milk, or tea, coffee, and cocoa as they can inhibit absorption.

Plant foods, such as leafy greens (spinach, chard, beet, collard, etc.), dried fruit, tofu, lentils, oatmeal, beans, and fortified grains also provide iron but it’s not absorbed as well as animal iron. That's ok though; to increase the absorption of iron from plant foods, combine it with a vitamin C source such as tomato sauce, peppers, oranges, strawberries, or pineapple.

Protect Your Immune System

Lastly, being at altitude puts additional stress on your body and your immune system. Before you ascend and while you are at altitude, be sure to eat foods that are anti-inflammatory and support a healthy immune system. Think vegetables and fruits of all colors of the rainbow.

  • Red Strawberries
  • Orange Carrots
  • Yellow Bell Peppers
  • Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Blueberries
  • Purple Eggplant
  • Brown Mushrooms
  • White Cauliflower

Include at least a serving of vegetables with lunch and dinner and a serving of fruit with breakfast, snack, and/or dessert. Dried fruit is an excellent, portable way to get iron, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Stay tuned for a portable carbohydrate, iron, and vitamin C containing recipe that would be great for your next ascent to altitude!

Remember though, your diet is only part of your success at altitude.  Here are 3 other super important things you need to do, to be ready to play up high.

References

1. Katayama, Keisho, et al. "Substrate utilization during exercise and recovery at moderate altitude." Metabolism 59.7 (2010): 959-966.

Dr. Jason Barker
Dr. Jason Barker


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