Many athletes believe that training at higher altitudes improves their performance, as the body is forced to work harder to produce oxygen. However, Medical News Today reports that the benefits only occur at certain heights, and that athletes may just be wasting their energies by training in places that are too high or too low.

Researchers asked 48 track and cross country college runners to train in an area close to sea level for four weeks. The athletes also regularly underwent blood tests that measured their levels of erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that helps produce red blood cells. Researchers believe that more red blood cells enable the body to create more oxygen.

After the first four weeks, the participants were flown to a mountainous region where they trained for another four weeks in four areas with different altitudes, namely: 1,780 meters, 2,085 meters, 2,454 meters, and 2,800 meters.

The results showed that those who trained between the altitudes 2,085 meters and 2,454 meters performed better than those who worked out at higher or lower altitudes.

“There is an optimal living altitude for producing improvements in sea level performance,” the study authors conclude. “For the athlete engaged in altitude training, the identification of an optimal living altitude holds tremendous practical application.”

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(Photo by whologwhy via Flickr Creative Commons)

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