Competing at elevation can be a challenge for athletes, as the lower oxygen levels (reduction of partial pressure) can make it difficult to perform at our best. However, with proper preparation, we can minimize the effects of altitude and maximize our chances of success.
Here are some tips for timing your travel:
Avoid: The biggest challenge with competing in events at high altitude is timing your arrival. Let's start by talking about the timing scenario you should avoid if possible: arriving only 2-5 days before your event. Why? Altitude is a new stress on your body that will build over time before your body begins to adapt. This cumulative, short-term stress typically has its peak impact on the body (alarm phase of G.A.S.) in ~2-5 days of arrival at high altitude.
So what is the best strategy? There are a couple options.
Arrive early: If this is a major A event, arrive 10-14 days before the event to give your body time to acclimatize to the altitude. This allows the body to get over the heavy stress (alarm phase) of the arrival and begin to resist and respond by acclimating to such stress and allow for the best performance.
Arrive late: Arrive as close as you can to the start of the event; less than 24 hours is second best. Why? Being at higher altitudes is a stress on our bodies, but it takes about 24-36 hours for our bodies to really start being impacted by this new stress, so there is a short window of show-up-and-race that will allow us to perform.
Reality check: The reality for most of us is we want to/have to arrive 2-5 days before the event. The above tips are focused on best performance, not reality or even the most enjoyable scenario, and they should be balanced against logistics and fun factors.
Here are some tips for acclimatizing and training at altitude.
Prepare the body. If you are arriving early, consider supplementing iron, Vitamin B, and Vitamin D for at least 30 days in advance to give your body the tools needed for acclimation. It is important to note that iron can build up in the body, so proper dosage recommendation or medical advice should be followed.
Hydrate high. The dry air at altitude can dehydrate us quickly, so it's important to increase both hydration and electrolytes throughout the time at altitude, as our hydration status has an impact on our kidneys and our bodies' ability to produce EPO in response to the stress of altitude.
Increase carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy, and there is some research that suggests a high carbohydrate intake can reduce the effects of altitude by 1000-2000 feet at a height of 13,000 feet and 17,000 feet, respectively. This is most likely due to the fact that carbohydrates require 8-10% less oxygen for metabolism compared to fat and protein.
Beet the stress. Betalains (such as AltRed) or beetroot products (nitrates) will help boost the body's ability to utilize the available oxygen and can help mitigate some of the negative impacts of altitude.
Following these tips will help you compete at altitude successfully. However, it is important to remember that everyone reacts to altitude differently, so you may need to adjust your approach based on how you feel.