Acclimating to Altitude

by Dan Hinz, Jr. on 27Mar2010 Print This Post Print This Post

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Drink water! Drink lots and lots of water. It’s recommended that you drink twice as much water as you do at lower altitudes. Drinking water is the single most helpful thing you can do to keep up with the demands of higher elevation. In turn, avoid the dehydration that results from consuming alcohol and caffeine.

Stay properly hydrated. 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). Urine output should be clear and plentiful.  Some recommend doubling your fluid intake.

Take it easy; don’t over-exert yourself when you first get up to altitude. Light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.
Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. These depressants further decrease the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in a worsening of the symptoms.

A number of changes take place in the body to allow it to operate with decreased oxygen:

  • The depth of respiration increases.
  • Pressure in pulmonary arteries is increased, “forcing” blood into portions of the lung which are normally not used during sea level breathing.
  • The body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen,
  • The body produces more of a particular enzyme that facilitates the release of oxygen from hemoglobin to the body tissues.

Nutrition. Potassium is especially helpful to physiological maintenance at greater heights. Eat a diet that includes bananas, potatoes, broccoli, greens and dried fruits, along with chocolate for dessert. Your appetite may increase for a few days. Be sure to eat enough. Being undernourished will certainly compromise your stamina.

Eat a high carbohydrate diet (more than 70% of your calories from carbohydrates) while at altitude.

The “normal” recommended dietary breakdown is:

  • 2000 Calories/day of which:
    • 300g of Carbs or 1200 Calories
    • 65g of Fat or 585 Calories (max 20% saturated)
    • 50g of Protein or 200 Calories

You can see that would be 60% carbs and 10% protein.  Now you don’t want to eliminate your protein so instead, reduce your protein by half and reduce your fat a bit to get the carbs up to 70%.

Rest! You will sleep well and longer when you first experience high altitude. Each time you exercise, be ready to follow it up with a nap. If scheduling allows, have a midday nap every day for the first couple of weeks. If not, get to sleep an hour early to avoid mountain fatigue.

Moisturize. The air at higher elevations may also be much drier than what you’re accustomed to. It may deplete moisture from your skin to a painful degree. Use soap with a moisturizer like aloe, and rub lotion all over your skin while it’s still a little wet from bathing. Lips and hands will need moisturizing balm applied several times a day.

Overly dry mucous membranes (your nose) tend to bleed more meaning spontaneous nosebleeds or nosebleeds with a sneeze…You may need (or want) to bring a nasal mister (Sodium Chloride solution) like Ayr or one of the generic drugstore equivalents.  Ayr has a gel product that has a longer staying time when applied to the nose called Ayr Nasal Gel (not petroleum jelly based). Don’t put petroleum jelly in your nose as a lubricant/moisturizer unless advised to do so by a doctor as it will likely make things worse, rather than better.

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