• USA Cycling Mountain Bike Nationals - Altitude Questions

    Q. Hello. We are going to the USA Cycling MTB Nationals in Winter Park this year and will be racing various events over a week (between prerides, short track, qualifiers, XCO, etc). In preparation for the altitude, I read your article about altitude and the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race and have more questions. For Winter Park, we thought about getting up there a week in advance, but also considered spending two off days down in Golden, CO (about an hour a way, and at 5000 feet instead of 10,000). There could be downsides to this as well.

    1) Should we spend two days off in Golden or stay in Winter Park?

    2) Others have told us to stay in Winter Park but sleep in a room with supplemental oxygen, what do you think?

    3) Do you think there is a risk of spending "too much" time at altitude?

    Anyway, I’m interested if you had any other thoughts or have come across new research since you last article on altitude and racing. Thank you! ~ MD


     A. Hello MD ~

    Thanks for reaching out.

    First, I don't see the point of spending off days in Golden in the middle of your racing, other than perhaps a theory of recovery from hard efforts. There is more oxygen available in Golden. The question is, how much do you gain by spending time in Golden versus just having days off? I didn't find any research on such a format (low altitude for a couple of days in the middle of altitude training), so results are unknown. And, there is a hassle factor with moving locations.

    Typically, supplemental oxygen is used in training sessions, rather than sleep sessions, to improve performance. (This is the traditional sleep high, train low theory.) During training, supplemental oxygen during treadmill or bike trainer sessions has been shown to improve power output during the session, which is particularly useful for those living at altitude and racing at sea level. (The athletes living at the Olympic Training Center are great examples.) So, I'm not sure why someone would recommend supplemental oxygen in your sleeping room - other than perhaps they are thinking about recovery? I haven't been able to find that there is any benefit to sleeping with supplemental oxygen at altitude - except for "maybe" those with pre-existing sleep apnea.

    You don't say where you're traveling from - but if it is sea level, there are advantages to traveling to Golden (or any city along the front range of Colorado) and staying a couple of days to acclimate there first. By acclimatizing to some 5,000 feet prior to heading up to Winter Park at 9,100 feet, you can  reduce the chances of altitude illness and HAPE.

    For your final question, I don't see any downsides to spending more time at altitude as long as you do training to maintain power (shorter intervals and more recovery), aim for good recovery and high quality sleep. Most research points to 21 days as the optimal altitude exposure for those aiming to gain more red blood cells. If you plan to spend more than 21 days in CO, let me know. I have some ideas on other strategies to use.

    Hope this helps and let me know if you have more questions. Most of all, have fun at the races!


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