Eddie Lacy was asked if he was doing anything different to prepare for the altitude of Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium (just rolls off the tongue, don’t it). Earlier in the week, Mike McCarthy was asked the same question and basically said that the body takes more energy at high altitudes so the team had been instructed to drink more water and eat more carbs. All the talk of altitude got me wondering just what the affects of altitude are and how they can be counteracted.
The Denver Broncos have the advantage of training and living in high altitude so if there is a significant disadvantage to going to high altitude after training close to sea level, the Broncos would have that advantage. So first, what are the affects of altitude on an athlete when they live in the high altitude environment?
According to altitudetraining.com The well-documented physiological effects of altitude include:
- Increased natural hormone erythropoietin (EPO) production, which in turn increases red blood cell mass for delivering oxygen to muscle cells and converting it into energy.
- A boost in total blood volume to move oxygen more efficiently through your bloodstream.
- An increase in V02 max-the maximum amount of oxygen the body can convert to work, giving you more stamina for the long haul.
- Cranked-up hematocrit levels to provide a greater percentage of cells carrying oxygen.
- Elevated capillary volume, creating more blood pathways to muscle cells for improved muscle oxygenation.
- A higher volume of mitochondria–the powerhouses in cells that help your body turn oxygen into energy.
- An increase in the lungs’ ability to exchange gases efficiently – so that every breath you take more oxygen gets into the bloodstream.
This list seems to afford the Broncos what could be a significant advantage. On the other hand, the Packers train at 581 feet above sea level, roughly one tenth Sports Authority Field’s elevation (5,280 feet above sea level). So what might our beloved Packers players experience going from low altitude to high (other than trouble getting the oven temperature right when making deliscious blueberry muffins)?
At lower than 6,000 feet, the point where people can begin to feel altitude sickness if not properly acclimated, Denver is considered a moderate altitude. However, moderate altitude will still have an affect on our players and no amount of physical fitness changes that part of the equation. Some sources indicate that acclimation takes 4-6 days, but that may be for higher altitudes. Other sources seem to indicate that acclimation can take place in as little as 24-36 hours. In my personal experience, I felt great after about three days. So the most important thing the Packers need is a little extra time. Here is how the altitude will weigh on the players:
According to the almighty Wikipedia (Michael Scott says it is the best info so…):
The human body can adapt to high altitude through both immediate and long-term acclimatization. At high altitude, in the short term, the lack of oxygen is sensed by the carotid bodies, which causes an increase in the breathing rate (hyperventilation). However, hyperventilation also causes the adverse effect of respiratory alkalosis, inhibiting the respiratory center from enhancing the respiratory rate as much as would be required. Inability to increase the breathing rate can be caused by inadequate carotid body response or pulmonary or renal disease.
In addition, at high altitude, the heart beats faster; the stroke volume is slightly decreased; and non-essential bodily functions are suppressed, resulting in a decline in food digestion efficiency (as the body suppresses thedigestive system in favor of increasing its cardiopulmonary reserves).
Full acclimatization, however, requires days or even weeks. Gradually, the body compensates for the respiratory alkalosis by renal excretion of bicarbonate, allowing adequate respiration to provide oxygen without risking alkalosis. It takes about four days at any given altitude and can be enhanced by drugs such as acetazolamide. Eventually, the body has lower lactate production (because reduced glucose breakdown decreases the amount of lactate formed), decreased plasma volume, increased hematocrit (polycythemia), increased RBC mass, a higher concentration of capillaries in skeletal muscle tissue, increased myoglobin, increased mitochondria, increasedaerobic enzyme concentration, increase in 2,3-BPG, hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction, and right ventricular hypertrophy. Pulmonary artery pressure increases in an effort to oxygenate more blood.”
Altitude also often affects sleep. This could be an issue as the amount of rest obviously affects performance on the field. Again, the altitude is generally considered intermediate so those affects should be minimal. To offset the altitude, players should (this is a partial list…based on what I think applies):
- Give their bodies time and spend time early on simply resting and letting their bodies acclimate.
- Drink more water. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 3-4 quarts per day).
- Eat a high carbohydrate diet (more than 70% of your calories from carbohydrates) while at altitude.
- The acclimatization process is inhibited by dehydration, over-exertion, and alcohol and other depressant drugs.
You can read more about (high) altitude sickness here.
So the Packers seem to be doing the necessary things to get the team ready for the altitude in the Denver game. If I remember right, they are planning to arrive today, and if they rest up, their bodies should be acclimated and ready for the big game Sunday night. The carbs and water that the team espouses is right on the money and hopefully the players will take those recommendations seriously. I believe this team is going to be ready to go and will give the Denver Broncos more than they can handle. Check in later for my Friday prediction video!