SAN FRANCISCO -- Altitude training is a popular technique among athletes preparing for a competition, especially expert runners. Much research has been conducted on how to do it, at what altitude to train, how to modify workouts and how long to stay at altitude. However, a major unanswered question is when should an athlete return from altitude to compete?
Coaches of elite runners generally take one of two sides.
"They either believe an athlete should compete within 48 hours of coming back from altitude or in the 18- to 22-day range after returning," said Robert Chapman, exercise physiologist in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University Bloomington. "But there is little scientific evidence showing why these coaches' opinions are valid."
His study, discussed on Thursday during the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting on Thursday, suggests that both camps might be right.
About the study:
Chapman said this might be attributed to a concept referred to as ventilatory acclimatization.
"At altitude, a person breathes more, and that extra breathing stays with you when you come back down from altitude. Extra breathing uses more muscles, more energy, and the body has to work more to regulate blood flow," he said.
This study suggests that an athlete may perform best at 18 to 22 days because the extra breathing goes away and the body gets re-acclimated to a lower altitude.
"This research will help athletes plan for major competitions," says lead author Abby Laymon, graduate student in the School of HPER's Department of Kinesiology. "For example, if an athlete is training for the Olympic trials, they can count backwards and plan their workout accordingly to perform their best after altitude training."