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Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them. While there are no new episodes of Brain Food, we will continue to maintain the archive here.

Brain Food: High-Altitude Training

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HYPO2
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Flagstaff has long been a destination for elite athletes to train at high altitude. From swimmers at the Wall Aquatic Center to runners on the trails, working out at 7,000 feet can increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells by 4 or 5 percent. Now, new research shows the longer athletes train at high elevation, the better the results. Dan Bergland is a sports physiologist at HYPO2, Flagstaff’s high-altitude training camp. 

“If they stay 28 days, stay another week, we see a pretty significant jump between 6 and 7 percent. They seem like small percentages but those increases end up being about a one-and-a-half percent increase in performance, which is huge in the elite athlete world,” he says.

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According to Bergland, Olympic data shows that since 2004, all U.S. distance-sport athletes who won medals had trained at altitude. He came up with a formula alternating training at high elevation, and then slightly lower.

“Kind of the number we’re looking for, what they consider lower altitude, is below 4,500 feet. So, getting down to Sedona, Cottonwood, Camp Verde achieves that threshold. Optimally, for a high-altitude training camp, you want to be at altitude at least 19 hours during the day,” he says.

Bergland also recommends athletes build their “inspiratory” muscles which help them breathe in, and ingest certain types of nitrates. Research has found that drinking beet juice, for example, increases the oxygen carrying capacity of red blood cells. 

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