Q&A with Coach Jesse Moore on the Benefits of High Altitude Training in Mammoth Lakes

Coach Jesse Moore trains elite endurance athletes of all stripes, several of whom have spent time in the Mammoth Lakes Crib. His athletes include cyclists Andrew Talansky  and Jack Bauer (Cannondale Pro Cycling), Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) Chris Jones (United HealthCare) and Brendon Rhim (Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team). An accomplished bike racer and triathlete in his own right, Moore also holds a masters degree in exercise science from UC Davis. But it’s his ability to expertly translate science into real world performance that’s made him a sought after name amongt some of the world’s most elite athletes. Moore spoke to us about the many benefits of training in a place like Mammoth Lakes.

The Benefits

Crib: Quite simply, what are the benefits for athletes training and resting at altitude?

Jesse Moore: In my mind there are multiple benefits for athletes training and living at altitude. The most talked about are the increases in red blood cell count and plasma volume changes that help the athlete gain varying degrees of physiological improvement.

Each athlete responds differently to the extra training stress that comes from being at altitude, but if that stress is respected and dosed properly the gains can easily translate to a podium finish.

Beyond the physiological gains though, I think the most overlooked benefit of spending time at altitude can be found in the focus that a place like Mammoth Lakes provides. Mammoth Lakes has all the necessities for training and recovering effectively, but the distractions of day-to-day life are also left behind. That reduction in life stress translates into extra energy to put into the training goals of each day. It’s those small daily gains compounded over time that result in winning margins.

Crib: It’s not just elite athletes that receive those benefits, right? Weekend warriors, amateurs, etc. can feel the effects?

JM: Most people underestimate the cumulative negative training effect of navigating all of life’s obstacles. In a place like Mammoth Lakes those obstacles are removed and you can reach your daily potential. In essence it is a chance to live like a pro for a time. The elites and pros come for marginal gains, the amateurs come for the much greater opportunity available when you nail the basics of undistracted training, sleep, nutrition and recovery.

Diet for Training at Altitude

Crib: Is there anything special you’ll want to supplement your diet with while training and resting at altitude?

JM: Generally speaking you can’t respond to a block of training at altitude if you don’t have the building blocks to do so or the physical and mental resources to gain momentum while you are there.

Normally I’m a fan of getting what you need from quality-sourced real food rather than bottles and tubes, but I do like my athletes to start a high-quality iron supplement about a week out from going to altitude.

The next thing is the athlete needs to come to altitude well-rested or the extra stress that comes from being up high will only serve to push them backwards in training rather than forward. Arrive fresh and motivated to go beyond what you can normally do. Once at altitude you are in a constant fight with dehydration so I often have my athletes use some light electrolyte mixes that are very low in sugar in order to hang onto more body water throughout the day. Protein turnover is also high at these camps so increasing the amount of high-quality proteins can often be helpful.

Finally, because there is less oxygen available at altitude, athletes are often supercharging even moderate physical efforts with anaerobic metabolism. That means they are burning through their high octane carbohydrate stores at a faster rate than normal. Even for fat adapted athletes I like them to increase their daily carbohydrate intake at altitude so that they don’t go flat or introduce a nutritional stress on top of the altitude and training stresses they already need to recover from.

Training in the Eastern Sierras

Crib: Having sent athletes to Mammoth Lakes to train, what about the region is unique and seems to not only appeal to athletes but boost performance?

JM: Access to the countless miles of trails and some of the longest paved climbs in the country comes to mind immediately. Being on the eastern side of the Sierras makes for a dry and reliable training climate as well.

Crib: Mammoth Lakes is known as a vacation destination, talk to us a little bit about the benefits of rest, especially for athletes. Do you have any tips for resting well?

JM: All athletes are good at breaking themselves down. Only the really good ones are good at giving themselves the rest required to actually build themselves back up.

The athlete is only getting stronger when they are resting and recovering. That doesn’t mean just sitting on the couch though. One of my favorite parts about being in Mammoth Lakes are the numerous places to do active recovery in the forms of a scenic hike or light bike ride to help speed the recovery process. It may sound silly, but naps are also easy to come by in Mammoth Lakes. It’s a quiet mountain town that makes it ideal to check out mid-day and recharge with a nap. Those alone are worth the trip!

Crib: It’s also known for spectacular scenery, is there any benefit to being surrounded by that kind of natural beauty?

JM: I believe so. The effect may not show up in a scientific journal, but it would be hard to argue with the positive impact that comes from training in a place that intrinsically makes you happy.  No better way to recharge the mental and motivational batteries than a number of days on new training routes surrounded by spectacular views in every direction.  

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