Altitude training – what is the optimal living altitude?

Winter and ski season is approaching, and thousands of people interested in winter sports will follow the contests from now until April, with Olympic Games in Sotsji as the great highlight. Even though this is not an alternative for every-day exercise performers, it is well-known that our medal hopes include altitude training to reach the top. But what is the best way to train in the height? And which altitude is the optimal for best results ion aerobic performance?

utah1A new publication in the Journal of Applied Physiology adresses these questions. How high should athletes live during an altitude training camp to improve sea level running performance? In the study, 48 collegian long distance runners spent 4 weeks at an altitude training camp in the mountain area around Park City, Utah in the United States. The runners were randomly divided to live at 4 different locations in the mountains, at 1780m, 2085m, 2454m, or 2800m and trained together after the live high – train low model (Live and train moderately at high altitude, and travel down as low as possible to perform high intensity work outs. In this case to 1300 meter in Salt Lake City, Utah).

When comparing the results in the different groups, it was found that a living altitude between 2000 and 2500 meter gave the greates improvements in sea level performance. In other words, this should be the preferred height for athletes at altitude training camps.

utah2The study was run by Professor Benjamin Levine and Dr. James Stray Gundersen from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and CERGs Trine Karlsen were one of many research fellows working on the study. 


Trine Karlsen, post doc at CERG

CERG reaches new heights

As a master student in the Exercise Physiology and Sport Science Program, I had the opportunity to be involved in a high altitude research project. This project was a co-operation with the Environmental Physiology group from Mid-Sweden University. There were many research aspects to this project; my measurements focused on endothelial function and the affect of beetroot juice supplementation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur group of fourteen people, left Scandinavia March 17/18 bound for Kathmandu, Nepal. The research started almost immediately with FMD measures, using the VividI ultra-sound, on the floor of the Doha (Qatar) airport. Once reaching Kathmandu, everyone was involved in several tests and excessive shopping for cheap outdoor gear. This fit into a short and busy 36 hours before departing for Rolwaling Valley. The first weeks of trekking involved sunny and snowy days with many thousand vertical meters hiking (reaching a 4550m high point). Our group started with 42 porters, guides and cook staff, feeling like a true Himalaya expedition.

Although the VividI ultra-sound is designed as portable, it was really put to the test on this trip. 14 hours of plane travel 10 hours of bus and 3 days of walking to reach the initial high altitude site at 3700m in Rolwaling Valley. I was prepared for field research to be a very new situation compared with in the lab, and was this ever true. During this trip, the challenges of low oxygen combined with no electricity, heating and sub zero temperatures added to the lack of ‘real’ lab facilities. With extra logistical arrangements and small compromises made for all projects to be successfully carried out at each location, in a few short days.



Other than the science, this trip was a fulfilling cultural experience. Despite the busy and hazy atmosphere Kathmandu, the people were always welcoming. In the valleys, the Tibetan culture and ancient religious practices could still be found. With full moon festivals including local alcohol made from millet, spicy potato stew, traditional dress and not so traditional music and dance. Small children with snotty noses and dirty clothes, playing with sticks and tires; reminding us what childhood was like before the days of iphones and computer gaming.

After a few weeks in Rolwaling Valley, the group carried on to climb peaks and passes. A few of us returned to Kathmandu to either return home or continue our travels. At this point, I met with Alf Brubakk, Ulrik Wisløff, and Svein Erik Gaustad who were in Nepal meeting with the Kathmandu University. More FMD measurements where arranged with local Nepali porters, potentially a future project in the works? 

Emily Bakker, master student at NTNU (supervised by CERG researchers)