Al­ti­tude Ad­just­ment

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Sharon Crowther

Cal­gary lab ex­am­ines the ben­e­fits of hy­poxic train­ing for top-level am­a­teur cy­clists

The pros have been ex­tolling the ben­e­fits of al­ti­tude train­ing for years; ev­ery ma­jor team in the world heads for higher ground i n ad­vance of a Grand Tour. Why? Well, they’re seek­ing two phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes from sleep­ing or train­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment with less oxy­gen: a short-term in­crease in red blood cells, thanks to the stim­u­la­tion of nat­u­ral ery­thro­poi­etin (epo), and mus­cle tis­sue adap­tion .

Now an in­creas­ing num­ber of am­a­teur cy­clists are also hop­ing to ben­e­fit from hy­poxic train­ing, ei­ther through al­ti­tude train­ing camps in moun­tain­ous re­gions such as Colorado or Mex­ico, at-home op­tions that in­clude al­ti­tude sleep­ing tents or at spe­cial­ized fa­cil­i­ties like Canada’s first al­ti­tude lab, part of tcr Sport Lab, which opened re­cently in Cal­gary.

As the race sea­son warmed up, cy­clists of all lev­els were us­ing the new fa­cil­ity, which in­cludes sta­tion­ary bikes, tread­mills and row­ing ma­chines, to boost power, burn off ex­cess fat and i ncrease en­durance.

To prove the ben­e­fits, Cory Fa­gan – owner at tcr Sport Lab, phys­i­ol­o­gist and sports coach – teamed up with the Univer­sity of Cal­gary’s ki­ne­si­ol­ogy depart­ment to run a pi­lot study in his new fa­cil­ity. Ten lo­cal top-level am­a­teur cy­clists un­der­went a two- or four-week in­ter­ven­tion of eight al­ti­tude ses­sions. Be­fore and af­ter the in­ter­ven­tion, sub­jects per­formed an in­cre­men­tal test to ex­haus­tion to de­ter­mine anaer­o­bic thresh­old and VO2 max. They also un­der­went a time-to-ex­haus­tion trial at max­i­mum anaer­o­bic power (map) to de­ter­mine power sus­tain­abil­ity. The re­sults showed min­i­mal changes to VO2 max and mar­ginal changes to max­i­mal aer­o­bic power with the ex­cep­tion of two sub­jects who did demon­strate a 25 watt in­crease in max­i­mum power out­put.

The great­est area of im­prove­ment recorded was anaer­o­bic thresh­old, which was mea­sured as a per­cent­age of map. Seven of the sub­jects showed an im­proved anaer­o­bic thresh­old rel­a­tive to map while the other three showed an ab­so­lute im­prove­ment in thresh­old power out­put.

Fa­gan says these find­ings are con­sis­tent with al­ti­tude train­ing. “The process gen­er­ates changes to mus­cle tis­sue, in­clud­ing in­creased cap­il­lar­iza­tion and im­proved mi­to­chon­drial con­tent re­sult­ing in a greater abil­ity to main­tain sub-max­i­mum power out­puts while leav­ing VO2 max po­ten­tially un­changed,” he says.

Cy­clists’ time to ex­haus­tion also showed pos­i­tive changes with six sub­jects demon­strat­ing in­creased time to ex­haus­tion while two oth­ers demon­strated an in­creased power out­put re­sult­ing in a de­creased time to ex­haus­tion but an over­all in­crease in power. “It’s con­sis­tent with al­ti­tude train­ing where max­i­mal power is of­ten not in­creased but a cy­clist’s abil­ity to main­tain that out­put is im­proved. Cy­clists’ av­er­age times to ex­haus­tion in this study were in­creased by 15 sec­onds over a three-minute test. Eight per cent is a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in en­durance,” Fa­gan says.

Par­tic­i­pants’ blood data was less con­clu­sive with some cy­clists show­ing sub­stan­tial adap­ta­tions in lev­els of he­mo­glo­bin and hema­t­ocrit while oth­ers showed min­i­mal changes. “Some peo­ple sim­ply re­spond bet­ter to hy­poxic train­ing than oth­ers in terms of blood changes. A lot of these changes de­pend on their start­ing point prior to al­ti­tude,” Fa­gan notes.

The team at tcr Sport Lab is cur­rently work­ing on an­other study re­gard­ing the fat-burn­ing and weight-loss ben­e­fits of ac­tiv­ity in a hy­poxic at­mos­phere. So far, their find­ings show con­clu­sively that more calo­ries are burned at al­ti­tude, even when walk­ing.

The pre­lim­i­nary data for the new fa­cil­ity is en­cour­ag­ing for lo­cal cy­clists look­ing to gain an edge in their race sea­sons. Hy­poxic train­ing com­bined with a struc­tured plan can reap sub­stan­tial ben­e­fits. And, re­gard­less of whether or not the ev­i­dence is con­clu­sive, the placebo ef­fect of al­ti­tude train­ing has long been ex­tolled by ex­perts. When you be­lieve you are stronger, you are stronger.

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Al­ti­tude lab at tcr Sport Lab

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