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