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Before we break down a few basics of altitude training, lets highlight three tiers of elevation most relevant for cyclists [1].  


1600-6500 feet


6500-9800 feet


9800-18,000 feet

If you’re considering time at altitude in hopes of improving your performance for a target event, research suggests that moderate altitude (≈6500-8200 ft) is your best bet [2].

Since altitude training is a varied topic with no “one-size-fits-all” solution [3], your first step is to assess how practical it is in the first place.  

Once you’ve asked that question, you’ll likely find yourself in one of the four camps below.

1: Spending time at altitude before my event isn’t really an option. 

Your best bet might be to include heat acclimation (HA) into your training, aiming for improved performance at sea-level via the cross-adaptation principle [4].   

In addition to heat training, make sure to utilize high intensity efforts to boost your VO2max in the lead-up to your event. 

If you’re training for an event held at elevation, a sea-level training boost to your aerobic system should help to offset declines in VO2max brought on by altitude [5].

2: I could probably get to my event at elevation a bit early. 

The follow-up question is how early? 

The best case scenario sees you arriving at elevation at least two weeks prior to your event. If you can’t make that work, just get there as early and as fit as possible [6].

3: I could spend some time at elevation throughout the year.

Excellent. Research suggests that both short (3-4 days) [7] and long (2+ weeks) [8] stints at altitude may improve your performance at sea level [3] in addition to helping you acclimate more rapidly to an event held at altitude [9].

The positive impact of accumulated days at altitude explains why some of the top endurance athletes spend over 60 days a year training at altitude [3, 10].  

In short, if you have the opportunity to spend multiple days at altitude, without making too many compromises to the rest of your training, go for it! [5].

4: I live at elevation! 

Living at altitude is great, but it comes at the cost of not being able to train as intensely as you could if you lived closer to sea level [5].

The wattage throttling effect of altitude is why you might benefit from planning your most intense training for time spent near sea level.

This concept of living at elevation, and training intensely closer to sea level is known as “Live High, Train Low” (LHTL) [11].  

Nutritional Considerations

Like other training strategies, your body’s ability to adapt to conditions at altitude is underpinned by smart nutrition [5].

Here are two basics of nutrition to consider before spending time at elevation. 

Get enough Iron

If you’re wanting the best bang for your buck from time spent at altitude, make sure you have enough iron in your blood before you head to higher elevation [12].

Start by talking with your doctor and seeing if you can check your iron levels, then make sure you’re eating enough iron-rich foods (or possibly supplementing if advised) in the weeks before and during your time at altitude [5].

Eat and drink more

Since your appetite is generally suppressed at altitude [13], insure you’re eating adequate carbohydrate and protein even if you’re not feeling hungry [14].

In addition to eating more, make sure you’re drinking enough fluids, as the demands of altitude can lead to rapid dehydration [14].

In short, if your fueling and hydration strategy at elevation looks the same as your strategy for training near sea level, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.


  1. Bärtsch, P. and B. Saltin, General introduction to altitude adaptation and mountain sickness.Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2008. 18(s1): p. 1-10.
  2. Chapman, R.F., et al., Defining the “dose” of altitude training: how high to live for optimal sea level performance enhancement. J Appl Physiol (1985), 2014. 116(6): p. 595-603.
  3. Mujika, I., A.P. Sharma, and T. Stellingwerff, Contemporary Periodization of Altitude Training for Elite Endurance Athletes: A Narrative Review. Sports Med, 2019.
  4. Gibson, O.R., et al., Cross-Adaptation: Heat and Cold Adaptation to Improve Physiological and Cellular Responses to Hypoxia. Sports Med, 2017.
  5. Jeukendrup, A.E. and M. Gleeson, Sport Nutrition. 2019.
  6. Chapman, R.F., A.S. Laymon, and B.D. Levine, Timing of arrival and pre-acclimatization strategies for the endurance athlete competing at moderate to high altitudes. High Alt Med Biol, 2013. 14: p. 319-324.
  7. Heinicke, K., et al., Long-term exposure to intermittent hypoxia results in increased hemoglobin mass, reduced plasma volume, and elevated erythropoietin plasma levels in man. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2003. 88(6): p. 535-43.
  8. Saunders, P.U., et al., Special Environments: Altitude and Heat. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2019. 29(2): p. 210-219.
  9. Millet, G.P., et al., Combining hypoxic methods for peak performance. Sports Med, 2010. 40(1): p. 1-25.
  10. Solli, G.S., E. Tønnessen, and Ø. Sandbakk, The Training Characteristics of the World’s Most Successful Female Cross-Country Skier. Front Physiol, 2017. 8.
  11. Levine, B.D. and J. Stray-Gundersen, A practical approach to altitude training: where to live and train for optimal performance enhancement. Int J Sports Med, 1992. 13 Suppl 1: p. S209-12.
  12. Govus, A.D., et al., Pre-Altitude Serum Ferritin Levels and Daily Oral Iron Supplement Dose Mediate Iron Parameter and Hemoglobin Mass Responses to Altitude Exposure. PLoS One, 2015. 10(8): p. e0135120.
  13. Butterfield, G.E., et al., Increased energy intake minimizes weight loss in men at high altitude. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1992. 72(5): p. 1741-1748.
  14. Burtscher, M., et al., Preparation for Endurance Competitions at Altitude: Physiological, Psychological, Dietary and Coaching Aspects. A Narrative Review. Front Physiol, 2018. 9: p. 1504.