n.c. mountain range close to 5000 feet above sea level
In a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Sci med researchers looked at lower altitudes and the effects it can deliver to runners. A group of 16 elite or well trained athletes were assigned to either group 1: LHTH ( live high train high), but the altitude was only about 5400 feet above see level group or LLTL ( live low, train low at sea level). Both groups were equally trained and of similar capactiy prior to the study. The parameter being measured in the study was hemoglobin and iron. I will focus on hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen; oxygen is a good thing for runners to have! The more oxygen you carry, the more energy can be produced! In this study, each group separately lived and trained for 3 weeks. Blood samples were drawn prior, 2 weeks and 3 weeks into the study. After 2 weeks, the LHTH hemoglobin increased 3.1% compared to 0.4% for the sea level group. At 3 weeks, these values had not changed.
If you ever decide to be an elite runner, you don't have to go to quite as high as you thought to reap the benefits. Training at altitude has many benefits and I only mentioned one of these following this research paper. Realize, two weeks is really a minimum time to start to see much measurable improvement in hemoglobin concentration, but this is less time than most researchers claim is necessary. So what does this 3.1% increase mean to us mere mortals? Let's take VO2max ( a measure of oxygen that can be delivered to your muscles in a given amount of time). If your VO2 max increases from 51 x 3.1%= 52.58% This equates to about a 30 second improvement on your 5k time, if you are an efficient runner!
Jeff Bangle, DVM