diet for high altitude

When running a marathon or training at altitude, keep the following diet recommendations in mind:

Increase your iron. Iron is needed for the body to produce hemoglobin. Due to the lower partial partial of oxygen at higher altitude the saturation of oxygen is decreased by approximately 3-5% at 6,800 feet. Thus, runners should know that an increase in hemoglobin will allow more oxygen to be carried in the blood.

So, if you’re preparing for a race, start taking 1-2 grams of Vitamin C per day. Vitamin C is said to help the absorption of iron. Eating a diet with iron-rich foods can help treat iron-deficiency anemia.

Good sources of iron for runners include the following:

  • meats – beef, pork, lamb, liver, and other organ meats
  • legumes, such as lima beans and green peas; dry beans and peas, such
  • as pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and canned baked beans
  • yeast-leavened whole-wheat bread and rolls
  • poultry – chicken, duck, turkey, liver (especially dark meat)
  • fish – shellfish, including clams, mussels, and oysters, sardines, anchovies
  • leafy greens of the cabbage family, such as broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and collards
  • iron-enriched white bread, pasta, rice, and cereals

If you’re serious about performing your best on race day, steer clear of absorption-blocking foods when consuming iron. Foods such as fiber, coffee, milk and tea can slow down and block the absorption of iron. If you must have coffee in the morning, try having the hard boiled egg at lunch rather than at breakfast.

Balance your body’s pH levels.

When training and/or competing in a marathon at higher altitudes, the body will break down lactic acid into hydrogen ions more quickly than at sea level.

Having a balanced blood PH level will assist in buffering hydrogen ions in the muscles. Note that a food’s acid or alkaline-forming tendency in the body has nothing to do with the actual pH of the food itself.

For example, lemons are very acidic, however the end products they produce after digestion and assimilation are alkaline so lemons are alkaline-forming in the body. Likewise, meat will test alkaline before digestion but it leaves acidic residue in the body so, like nearly all animal products, meat is classified as acid-forming.

It is important that a runner’s daily dietary intake of food naturally acts to balance their body’s pH. To maintain health, the diet should consist of at least 60% alkaline forming foods and at most 40% acid forming foods. To restore health, the diet should consist of 80% alkaline forming foods and 20% acid forming foods.

Nevertheless, the principles are clear: eat plenty of vegetables, some fruit daily, and don’t overdo it on dairy, grain, and direct protein from eggs, meat and fish. But remember you do not have to cut out all acid-forming foods – some are necessary, typically 40% – otherwise you probably would not get enough protein and nutrients, let alone make interesting meals that you enjoy. But if you’re a marathon runner, you DO want to shift the overall balance of your diet over toward the alkaline, and away from the excessively acid-forming diet of a quick-food culture.

Free range eggs, fish, beans, unsaturated oils – these are healthy foods, low glycemic and nutritious, and even if marginally acid-forming (or alkaline or between the two depending on how you measure or what chart you read). They are NOT the culprits in an acid-forming diet. The real culprits are highly sweetened foods, pastries, red meat, colas and highly processed foods – these are the ones to reduce to a sensible amount or cut out of your diet if they also contain stimulants and undesirable chemical additives.

Similarly, all runners should be sure to eat their share of high alkaline-forming foods to balance the low-acid foods you eat for their overall nutritional value.