Climbing, Elevation, Over-Training and More – Ask a Cycling Coach 223

Tune in live for Episode 223 of the Ask a Cycling Coach Podcast where we will be discussing the cost of climbing out of the saddle, elevation’s effect on training and recovery, how to manage over-training and much more. Join us on YouTube Thursday, October 3 at 8:00am Pacific!

Youtube Live Video:

Topics covered in this episode:

Subscribe to the Podcast

Listen to previous episodes on SoundCloud

Episode Notes:


Here’s the article that the Are you overtrained? table comes from:

1 Like

That triathlon show also has this new episode about end of season breaks and base training:

Hi All,

Just wanted to follow up on some potential confusion from today’s altitude conversation.

First, I think Chad and Nate were ‘arguing’ the same point. What threw me off was the switch to hyperoxia - I’ll address that in a bit. But before touching on hyperoxia, I want to do a bit of dive (small dive as I’m typing) on hypoxia and perhaps live high- train low (LHTL).

What’s important first though, is to talk about oxygen transport. We typically use the Fick equation to talk about oxygen consumption VO2 = Q x CaO2-CvO2, where Q = cardiac output (stroke volume x HR) and CaO2 is content of arterial oxygen and CvO2 is content of venous oxygen. The CaO2-CvO2 term is really a measure of oxygen extraction and the Q is a measure of the pumping capacity or blood delivery. We can rearrange this equation a little to be O2 delivery = Q x CaO2 or blood delivery x oxygen content in the blood.

Now our blood is quite good at carrying oxygen when bound to hemoglobin and when we’re at sea-level. The equation looks something like 1.34 x [Hb] x % Saturation + 0.003. At sea-level we are 97% saturated and males typically have about 15 g of Hb/100ml of blood. The 0.003 is related to the amount of dissolved O2 in plasma. So, at sea-level this typically works out to about 20 ml O2/100 ml of blood or 200 ml/L. Q at rest is about 5 L/min and can go up to 40 L/min in elite athletes at maximal exercise. So, we have the capacity to deliver a lot of oxygen (however, compared to thoroughbred racehorses, we’re a joke!).

Not to go too far off base here, but you can see how blood doping or EPO use can improve O2 delivery substantially as you can increase [Hb] an therefore O2 delivery. This is also the premise behind altitude training. But there are some caveats with altitude training. However, when you go to altitude, there is a substantial drop in the % saturation as there is a lower partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude - % is the same, but lower barometric pressure (I think Chad mistakenly said less O2 concentration, I know he meant partial pressure). This means we drop O2 delivery and need an adaptation.

First, the adaptation that occurs to allow improved performance following altitude training is related to the adaptations resulting from acclimatization. There is little evidence to support the improved performance being a result of hypoxic training (I’ll explain this below, but will focus on acclimatization for now).

Typically we see decreases in Q on early exposure to altitude and then a slight improvement over a few weeks, but it typically does not go above sea-level values (this is likely related to the ventricular filling vs. heart rate component, but not really key for here). The two big benefits of acclimatization are the increased ventilation that occurs (your ability to move more air), the increase in red cell mass (Hb), and initially and improved vascular control to increase peripheral blood flow to active tissues (however, this disappears in about a week or so). Now, the ventilation and RBC adaptations lasts for a couple of weeks and are independent of training - you get them if you go to altitude whether you train or not. There is one BIG caveat here - you can’t already have lots of RBC at sea-level prior to ascent. If you do, LHTL likely won’t work for you.

Now in studies that have looked training at altitude (LHTH) haven’t really seen improvements in performance above LHTL. The suggestion is that there is a reduction in absolute load that one can undertake. This reduced absolute load means that there is a reduction in flux of oxygen along the O2 delivery cascade - atmosphere, to lung, to heart, to blood vessels, to muscle, to mitochondria. If we start with lower oxygen (lower PO2) and then increase O2 demand, we likely can’t meet the demand and therefore we actually have a reduction in flux through all of the steps in the O2 delivery cascade and therefore no stimulus for adaptation. In fact, we have a stimulus for detraining!

Some other points that are important is that living high might lead to sleep disturbance, loss of appetite and dehydration, as well as acute mountain sickness so the return to sea-level can help with this and is also the reason that 2500m seems to be the ceiling. I’ve been to 5000m for 4 weeks and it sucked and was at 4000m for 10-days this summer (had my 10-year-old daughter doing VO2max tests! will post a video after this post) and that was hard too. Regardless, the quality of recovery needs to be addressed with LHTL and LHTH camps.

Ok, think I covered the hypoxia part, but happy answer any more questions that come up… like how high (2000-4000 although 2500-2800m seems to be the sweet spot) how long do I have to stay at altitude (probably more than 12 hrs per day and for (30-50 days to achieve 95% probability of an increase in RBC mass for 2500m, less for 3000m, but still weeks), when should I compete after I come down (within 10 days for adaptations to still be optimal, 14 days things start to disappear), type of training (USE TRAINERROAD - they have excellent plans, although no LHTL plan yet :slight_smile: maybe that’ll get me a free subscription haha)

Ok, hyperoxia… it’s a miracle, like EPO or blood doping or altitude training. But it’s only useful for acute performance improvements (this was Chad’s comment) and only up to about 40% O2 (sea-level is 21%). Studies using higher (70%), show a reduction in the Q components so O2 delivery doesn’t actually increase. You could live at altitude full time and then breathe 40% during training (I think this was Nate’s comment) - this is essentially LHTL and we’ve done some studies like this at 5000m and it’s improved physiological variables back towards sea-level values. However, when used at sea-level, and over time it doesn’t seem to improve normoxia performance (again, likely due to the slight reductions in Q and limb blood flow).

Ok, that took an hour to write and one 6.8% Category 12 Wild IPA! Happy to chat more about some of this cool physiology… really that means “drink more beer”.



Home brew! :canada::beer:

The partial pressure of the dissolved gasses also change based on atmospheric pressures, this is why scuba divers don’t breath 100% oxygen at depth as the tissues ability to absorb gasses changes baes on the partial pressure rather than the availability

@gdumanoir, can you be on my quiz team please, in case this question pops up?

Hi all - @Nate_Pearson @chad @Jonathan - Thanks so much for answering my question! I did see a doc in concert with asking you guys the question. I was squarely in the stage 1 column. I took a week completely off, then another week only riding 30 minutes at a time at well below 50% of ftp. Additionally, I addressed sleep hygiene, and paid more attention to actual recovery and rest. All the symptoms went away, RHR is normal, etc. I’m not going to barrel back into 90 miles/day (and probably won’t do that regularly anymore in general)…I plan on taking it relatively easy for another few weeks and then start building in some intensity. The TrainerRoad podcast is the reason I caught it early, so…thanks for that!!!


Nice episode. This time I made it all the way to the 1-hour mark before I needed to listen to Silento’s “Whip\Nae Nae”.

We’ve heard time and time again that increasing the number of hours you sleep benefits your overall health as well as training. What’s being skipped over is how women must adjust when they enter the perimenopause stage of life. For 41 years, I could fall asleep just by laying down – 8 hours, 10 hours, no problem. 2019 and year 42 hit me with the inability to sleep for long periods. According to my doctor(s), this is my first sign of perimenopause. Other women have different signs. On the bright side, I’m never fatigued. Ever – even after very long endurance rides.

For the first eight months of this year, I kept my regular training schedule and used various sleeping pills to attempt to overcome insomnia. In September my body crashed and I’m now trying to figure out how to accept the insomnia and adjust my training plan. At this point, I am thrilled to get six straight hours of sleep. I am a morning person, so waking at 3:30 a.m. to ride is ideal for me but doing that 3-4 times a week is just too much. I plan to move to a Short Volume plan and add running into my weekly schedule. (running allows me to rest and try to go back to sleep over and over and over J until 6:00 a.m.)

It would be interesting to hear if @ambermalika or her friends/training partners, have any experience with this issue. If so, how do they adjust? Do I give up on making big gains and settle for being in the B+/A- group or do I pick a more intense plan in the low volume series.


Hi - it was mentioned that there was a new Garmin beta allowing you to create “TrainerRoad on your head unit”. I can’t see the article that was referred to. Anyone have it?


1 Like

Insomnia; I recently retired from full time practice as a general surgeon which involved over 30 years of interrupted and intermittent sleep. After this, I found I was only able to sleep 5-6 hrs/night with several trips to the bathroom. After listening to Peter Attia’s podcast with Matthew Walker, I took the following steps:
Eliminate all blue light after 7 pm. I wear glasses over my glasses.
Eliminate all caffeine. This is a big one and the one that I think makes most difference.
Plan sleep and awakening so you’re in bed for at least 8 hrs.
No electronics in the bedroom
Shower before bed, helps drop body temperature when you step out of the shower.
Keep the bedroom cool. We leave the sliding door open part way to achieve this and stay warm with bedcovers

At this point I average 8-9 hrs/night. I usually wake up when it gets light in the morning. If I have to be somewhere at a specific time, I leave my phone in the bathroom as an alarm.

@Nate_Pearson can you share some data on plan completion rates?

It’s hard to measure that. Most people make slight changes. We’re doing some work to better understand this.

1 Like

Thanks @Nate_Pearson, was just curious as to what it might look like but I understand the intricacies.

Thank you for the tips. I will listen to that podcast. Ironically, planning for 8 hours of sleep is what ran me into the ground. I tried to set my own sleep schedule for nine months and the inability to fall asleep quickly (or even within 60-90 minutes caused anxiety issues which only contributed to my sleep issues).

Someone suggested that I stop fighting my body’s new routine and simply do chores or read in the living room until I begin to feel tired, take note of that feeling and wait until I’m sleepy before getting ready for bed. This has greatly improved the quality of my sleep when I do sleep. Six hours of great sleep is much better than eight hours of napping.

Most of what you mentioned was covered in a TR podcast about a month ago and I have implemented those practices at some time or another. One thing I did not try was taking a hot shower before bed. I appreciate that reminder!

Yes! I have experienced the same! I’m 46 years old, perimenopausal. Lately however, I’ve been able to sleep really well - back in the 7-9 hr range. I don’t know what the secret sauce is, but in my case I was able to see improvements just by tracking my sleep better (I use Whoop) and thereby seeing the effect of a good night’s sleep on my performance, committing to the same bedtime each night (9pm, but sometimes I hop in bed at 8:30 just to wind down), keeping my bedroom cool, making sure the room is really really dark, listening to an audiobook to help me fall asleep, and ceasing to drink fluids at least an hour or two before bed. It cuts into your life - you have to make time for it and sacrifice other things. But it’s important enough - the foundation on which everything else rests that it’s so worth it.

I laughed at your comment about the upside - I am also able to ride long into the night without much caffeine haha…

I too, would love to hear if Amber has any anecdotes or information.

What was the name of the book Nate referenced about Endurance Diet. Maybe it was called Endurance Diet? haha