Monday, May 05, 2008

Playing at Altitude

Welcome to Pleasant View, elevation 5,300 ft. In an effort to avoid busted lungs I've gathered some info from the very reliable "internet" ... actually most of it looked pretty reliable. Sources listed at the bottom.

The effects of playing a mile higher than sea-level are broken down into a few distinct areas: oxygen intake, dehydration, and UV exposure. Then of course there is the effect on a disc's flight, which is not insignificant.

Oxygen Intake
Contrary to popular misconception, the amount of oxygen at altitude is actually the same as it is at sea-level. What is different, however, is the barometric pressure and therefore your body's ability to use that oxygen. The lower the pressure the more difficult it is to move oxygen from your lungs to your bloodstream. Your body compensates for this by increasing breathing rate and heart rate. Additionally your VO2 max decreases approximately 1–2% for every 300 meters above sea level.

Side note: There is actually considerable debate regarding high-altitude training. The upshot is that training at sea level is more effective than at high altitude because your VO2 max has a higher ceiling, but the benefits of sleeping/residing at elevation acclimate your body to an oxygen-starved environment. "Live high, train low" is the current catchphrase. I don't know where this is possible, except maybe Hawaii, or maybe if you live at a super high elevation and go down to moderately high elevations to train.

This will be the biggest task facing sea-level competitors. Colorado is arid, but due to the altitude you will also be perspiring more and breathing more rapidly. Proper hydration leading up to and during the tournament is absolutely crucial (more so than your average tournament).

UV Exposure
You will be one mile closer to the sun than you normally are. UV levels rise 2% for every 1,000 foot rise in altitude, so be sure to use plenty of sunscreen. (See comments for clarification.)

Disc Flight
You should be able to huck the shit out of the disc, but it will fly very differently from what you are used to. Discs will not float as long and they will hold their edge harder. Blades really blade. I/O throws flatten nicely.

What Sea-Level Teams Should Do
Arrival: Unfortunately there are two competing factors for when you should arrive: staving off the body's natural response to re-acclimatizing vs practicing throwing. If you can arrive Thursday night that is best, but the tournament being a 3-day tournament also makes this decision tricky. According to Physiology of Sport and Exercise you should arrive as close to game-time as possible. (But that only addresses Friday's games. Ultimate is in a funny place as an endurance sport and a sprint sport.) But if you are arriving earlier I guess I would get a lot of throwing practice in. And most of you probably already have your plane tickets. Oh well.

Diet: Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Reduce sodium. Increase carbohydrates and water intake. Also please note that for the 28 teams done by Saturday night you will be affected by alcohol wayyy more than you are at sea-level.

UV: There will be sunscreen at the tournament (I'm pretty sure) but you should bring more, and you should use it. Maybe even bring aloe or lotion to use at night. Chapstick, definitely bring chapstick.

Other: If you like following up on spam pharmaceutical offers, maybe Viagra would be useful. (99% kidding.)

References/Further Reading (in no particular order):
Physiology of Sport and Exercise (pp. 290–292 in particular)


Tarr said...

It would be pretty tough to live much higher than 4000 or so in Hawaii, unless you are a researcher at the telescope or something. I suppose that's high enough to get the effect though. There's also other places it's possible. One that springs to mind is the mountains right around LA. For regionals last year we stayed in a rental house in Lake Arrowhead, about a half hour from the San Bernardino fields, that was a mile high.

reeb said...

A few points that if I'm not mistaken will clarify things for people even though your gist is correct.

I would think the amount of oxygen at altitude is the same relative to the other gases present. So always ~21% oxygen. However, with the pressure drop there is also a drop in the amount of total gas present for a given volume.

(Using the ideal gas law PV=nRT, if you keep the temp the same and take a given volume of air around you, if you drop the pressure, the amount of moles of gas should go down as well. And if you think about going out in to space, the air will become thinner and thinner even if the ratios stay relatively the same)

As far as train low and sleep high, this is most easily accomplished by using a hypobaric chamber. The Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez was know to have one in college at Ohio State and I'm sure they are being used by cyclists and runners.

Finally, as far as being 1 mile closer to the sun, its not the distance to the sun that makes as big of difference as you are 1 mile up in the air so there is that much less air to filter UV light. The earth varies its distance from the sun something along the lines of 3 million miles so distance wise, 1 mile is not a big deal.


degs said...

Thanks, reeb.

Anonymous said...
god bless you phil night.

Anonymous said...

that would be phil Knight, ceo of nike.

Peter said...

Re: "live high, train low" - I suspect one thing the perpetrators of the catchphrase have in mind is that you could sleep in one of those tent thingies at your beach house, then just go outside and be at sea level.

But yeah, there are plenty of places in California where it only takes an hour or two to get from effectively sea level to mile high. Pretty much anywhere on the Eastern edge of the Sacramento/San Joaquin valley where there is a paved road going up into the mountains. If you really wanted to dedicate yourself to this strategy, you could live in Soda Springs, CA - elevation about 6700 feet - and commute down to, I don't know, Citrus Heights - elevation 164 - in about an hour if you drive fast on I-80.

Also, it's less than 150 miles by trail and road from the top of Mount Whitney (14,505 ft) to the floor of Death Valley (-282 ft), although I think living near the one and training near the other would both present shall we say significant challenges.