Altitude training is a method of improving stamina and endurance in high-performance athletes. Exposing the body to high altitudes triggers an onset of physiological reactions that allow the body to produce energy more efficiently when faced with lower levels of oxygen. Along with improved performance, the high-intensity training results in an increase in respiratory capacity, red blood cell mass and hemoglobin concentration. With the advice of a health care practitioner, supplements can be safely added to a healthy diet to provide increased energy and maximal physiological benefit during exercise at high altitudes.
Iron deficiency is a common concern among athletes, as red blood cell mass and oxygen demands increase at a higher altitude. Ensure that your levels of iron are adequate before altitude exposure as it can take six to eight weeks to build up iron stores, also known as ferritin levels. Ferritin is a protein in the body that binds iron and measures how much iron is stored in the body. If baseline serum ferritin is less than 30 micrograms per liter for women or 40 micrograms per liter for men, eat plenty of iron rich foods and take an iron supplement as advised by a health care professional.
Exercising in high altitudes increases the production of free radical damage to the cells. Antioxidants can reduce the amount of oxidative stress on the body created by altitude exposure. Take a multivitamin on a daily basis to provide nutritional insurance, and supplement with a daily dose of 500 milligrams of Vitamin C and 500 International Units of Vitamin E to reduce the amount of free radical damage to the cells. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants -- vitamin C also facilitates the absorption of iron and can help to prevent iron deficiency.
Take a B complex that contains folic acid, B-6 and B-12 on a daily basis. B vitamins aid in the metabolism of carbohydrates to produce the essential energy needed for endurance athletes. B-12 and folic acid are particularly important for increasing red blood cell concentration. A deficiency in these vitamins can lead to anemia and have significant consequences on athletic performance.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
Supplementing with branched-chain amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine and valine, may help to build muscle mass and prevent further deterioration of lean muscle mass at high altitudes. These amino acids cannot be manufactured in the body and must be obtained through diet. According to a 2009 study published in "The Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology," BCAA supplementation may be effective to increase endurance and exercise capacity. As with all supplements, check with your health care practitioner prior to adding BCAA to your daily regimen.
- Wilderness Medical Society: Nutrition at High Altitude
- Rice University: High Altitude and Athletic Training
- Australian Institute of Sport: Antioxidants in Sports: Current Thinking
- Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology: Branched-chain Amino Acid Supplementation Increases The Lactate Threshold During an Incremental Exercise Test in Trained Individuals
- MedlinePlus.com: B Vitamins
- Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: High Altitude and Free Radicals
- Sportsci.org: Altitude: Body Composition Changes and Nutrition