The researchers worked with 48 collegiate track and cross country runners. For four weeks, these athletes trained in Dallas, where the researchers performed a variety of tests to assess the athletes' baselines on several different measures. For example, they determined the athletes' VO2max, a measure of aerobic fitness based on the rate at which the body uses oxygen during exercise. They timed the athletes as they ran 3000 meters at their fastest pace. They performed a variety of blood tests, including measuring their volume of red blood cells and the concentration of a hormone called EPO that stimulates red blood cell production. Previous research has shown that EPO concentrations rise when people live at higher altitudes, an adaptation to help their bodies cope with less oxygen in the air by making more red blood cells.
Then, for a second four weeks, these athletes were separated into four groups. Each group lived in altitude training camps in the mountains near Salt Lake City at sites of various altitudes: Heber City (1780 meters), Park City (2085 meters), Deer Valley (2454 meters), and Guardsman's Pass (2800 meters). Once a day, all the athletes gathered at a common site to train regardless of which altitude they were assigned for living. Their EPO concentrations were checked periodically during their mountain stay.
At the end of this period, the athletes regrouped in Dallas, where they had more exercise and blood testing and ran another timed 3000 meters.
The researchers found that when the athletes returned to sea level, only those who lived at the two middle altitudes (2085m and 2454m) performed significantly better than those at either end of the spectrum. EPO concentrations and red blood cell volumes had risen in each of the four groups, suggesting that contrary to long-held wisdom, these adaptations aren't the only reason altitude training enhances performance.
|Contact: Donna Krupa|
American Physiological Society