Nutrition and Altitude: Strategies to Enhance Adaptation, Improve Performance and Maintain Health: A Narrative Review


December 2019


Training at low to moderate altitudes (~ 1600–2400 m) is a common approach used by endurance athletes to provide a distinctive environmental stressor to augment training stimulus in the anticipation of increasing subsequent altitude- and sea-level-based performance. Despite some scientific progress being made on the impact of various nutrition-related changes in physiology and associated interventions at mountaineering altitudes (> 3000 m), the impact of nutrition and/or supplements on further optimization of these hypoxic adaptations at low–moderate altitudes is only an emerging topic. Within this narrative review we have highlighted six major themes involving nutrition: altered energy availability, iron, carbohydrate, hydration, antioxidant requirements and various performance supplements. Of these issues, emerging data suggest that particular attention be given to the potential risk for poor energy availability and increased iron requirements at the altitudes typical of elite athlete training (~ 1600–2400 m) to interfere with optimal adaptations. Furthermore, the safest way to address the possible increase in oxidative stress associated with altitude exposure is via the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods rather than high-dose antioxidant supplements. Meanwhile, many other important questions regarding nutrition and altitude training remain to be answered. At the elite level of sport where the differences between winning and losing are incredibly small, the strategic use of nutritional interventions to enhance the adaptations to altitude training provides an important consideration in the search for optimal performance.

Sports Med (2019) 49(Suppl 2):169-184.