Special Hydration Practices for High-Altitude Training
High-altitude training applies unique stress to the body. If you plan to spend time exercising at elevations above 5,000 feet (about 1,500 meters), you’ll need to take special precautions.
Many elite endurance athletes spend some portion of their training calendar living at high altitude, in places such as Boulder, Colorado or Flagstaff, Arizona. Because the concentration of oxygen in the air is lower compared to sea level, the athlete’s body will undergo certain hormonal and cardiovascular changes that help transport oxygen more efficiently to the muscles. When the athlete returns to sea level, those adaptations are maintained for a few days to a few weeks, boosting athletic performance.
Hydration at higher altitudes
In addition to lower oxygen concentration, the air at higher altitudes is less humid, which allows sweat to evaporate from the skin more quickly. Very dry air can trick a person into thinking he or she is not sweating much, even if water loss occurs at a high rate. Athletes lose more water through breathing at higher altitudes for the same reason.
Combined, these effects increase the amount of water a person will need to consume to stay hydrated, and some estimates advise athletes to drink an extra 1 to 1.5 litres of water daily.
Electrolytes also play a role in hydration. When we sweat, we lose salts, including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. As the Wilderness Medicine Society Practice warns, if high-altitude athletes do not take precautions to replace lost electrolytes—and instead rely on water alone to stay hydrated—they run the risk of a dangerous condition called hyponatremia. This condition, caused by low levels of sodium in the blood, can lead to headaches, nausea, disorientation, fatigue and, in extreme cases, loss of consciousness or death.
Therefore, as water consumption goes up to meet the demands of higher-altitude training, electrolyte consumption should also rise. The following chart may help when planning your routine. Please remember each athlete is different, and you should therefore adapt this to fit your unique needs.
Electrolyte supplements can help reduce the chance of hyponatremia, and many athletes around the world have found success with SaltStick products, which contain the full spectrum of electrolytes lost in sweat, in a form the body can easily absorb. One SaltStick Capsule, for instance, contains 215 mg of sodium, 63 mg of potassium, 22 mg of calcium and 11 mg of magnesium, along with 100 IU of Vitamin D to help the body absorb and utilise calcium.
If you are headed to a high-altitude location to train or race, be sure you do not forget about the unique hydration needs you will face. With proper planning, you will be ready to perform safely and at your best.
Disclaimer: Contact your physician before starting any exercise program or if you are taking any medication. Individuals with high blood pressure should also consult their physician prior to taking an electrolyte supplement. Overdose of electrolytes is possible, with symptoms such as vomiting and feeling ill, and care should be taken not to overdose on any electrolyte supplement.