Adaptations of altitude training

Why it's worth seeking out higher ground

You don't have to be an elite athlete to get the benefit from altitude training. As our "Science Behind" feature in the current issue of Trail Running points out, even short stints can prove a psychological boost and inspire your training. However, if you're fortunate enough to be able to go for a few weeks then here are some of the adaptations you can expect:

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More red blood cells
At higher altitudes, there are fewer oxygen molecules in each breath you take. Therefore, in order to compensate, the body has to produce more red blood cells to circulate the oxygen around the body.

More haemoglobin
This is the protein in the red blood cells that combines with the oxygen to transport is around the body. The more haemoglobin, the higher the saturation of oxygen.

Greater number of mitochondria
Mitochondria converts oxygen to energy, so when you are starved of oxygen-rich air, your body makes up for it by producing more these.

More effective use of fat
Studies have shown athletes returning to sea level from altitude depend less on carbs and more on fat as an energy source.

Bigger lung capacity (higher alveoli volume)
You breathe more often and more deeply boosting lung capacity.

Larger heart  size
Heart rate is raised at high altitude, so when you return to sea level this organ is more effective for a short period of time.

More myoglobin in the muscles
The volume of this oxygen-binding protein is 50% higher at altitude – another plus for your fitness.