Impact of Altitude on the body

By the Altitude Centre

So, you’ve signed up for an endurance challenge. Perhaps you’ve taken on few challenges in the past? Have you ever tackled an endurance challenge in the mountains? It can feel very different! To be fully prepared, you need to understand the impact on altitude on the body…

Firstly, the air when above 1500 m feels thinner and subsequently makes exercise feel a lot harder, predominantly due to the lower oxygen pressure. Essentially there is an equivalent of a 30% loss in oxygen availability at the summit compared to sea level.

Given that oxygen allows us to exercise aerobically, having less will make your legs and lungs demand it even more! For example, take cycling when climbing up a 7% gradient at 250 W (a similar power output you have been working at on your turbo trainer at home), you can expect your heart rate to be around 10–20 bpm higher even when still holding 250 W.

Likewise, if you prefer to exercise at a pre-determined heart rate, i.e., 160 bpm, you can achieve this with an output 10–20% less than you would expect when not in the mountains.

Secondly, it is well known that just a 2% loss in body weight (through fluid loss) leads to negatively impacted performance. As you are likely to be working a lot harder during an event like Everest in the Alps than some of your local weekend training loops, you are more likely to lose fluids through sweat as well as possibly forgetting to take on fluids from your bottle.

The loss in sweat will also include salt, also known as sodium bicarbonate, which your legs will need to grind you up the big climbs and keep you ticking along the flats.

Thirdly, as well as hydration, your appetite may also be affected whilst you tackle the route. We’ve all heard of ghrelin before (the hormone that makes you feel hungry), but did you know that this is suppressed when at altitude?

During the many hours you’ll spend on the ski’s, you’ll burn a lot of calories. Naturally the harder you push, the more calories you’ll burn. But due to a reduced appetite when at altitude, it may feel like a chore to take on energy gels, bars and drinks, or even your go-to snacks that you’re used to consuming!

So you now know that you’re going to have to be careful with your efforts. Going into the red will make it extremely difficult to get back to a comfortable intensity without further damage…but there are factors and methods that you can use to prepare…

Step one is to answer that burning question, how much will the altitude affect my exercise performance at altitude? Well the answer is simple; undergo an Exercise Consultation!

After this we will be able to see the individual impact altitude has on you and from here come up with a plan that works to reduce the impact of altitude on performance.

If the consultation isn’t for you then jump straight in with our Exercise and IHE sessions and begin the acclimatisation process here in London, so when you hit the Alps you are in the best shape possible!

The Altitude Centre

The UK’s number 1 altitude training specialist. Founded in 2003 The Altitude Centre has become the leading company in its field. Our clients include National Governing Bodies, Sports Teams, Olympic Champions, Climbers and members of the general public.

We help all our clients achieve their goals.

Anna Rae Dowling