The truth about sports, nutrition and pain! Why altitude affects performance

I think many people have heard that exercising at altitude is harder than exercising at sea level but most people don’t know exactly why. I will try to explain that in this blog.

First we have to talk about atmospheric pressure and what it is and what it means. In simple words, atmospheric pressure is a measure of the weight of a column of air directly over that spot. At sea level, the weight of that column of air is greatest and it equals more or less to 760mmHG. Most of you will know that air is composed of Nitrogen 79.04%, Oxygen 20.93% and Carbon Dioxide 0.03%. These percentages remain constant regardless of altitude. So, at sea level where atmospheric pressure is 760mmHG, the partial pressure of Nitrogen would be 600.7 (79.04% of 760mmHG), of Oxygen it would be 159.1mmHG (20.93 % of 760mmHG) and 0.2mmHg for Carbon Dioxide (0.03% of 760mmHG). Ok, so as we start to climb the atmospheric pressure is going to decline, the percentages of the gases will remain constant but the partial pressure of each gas will be lower. This is because the air is less dense, and each liter of air contains fewer molecules of gas. Let’s look at some examples to visualize this:

1. Mexico city is at 2,210 meters, the atmospheric pressure there is around 585mmHG meaning that the partial pressure of oxygen would be 122mmHg ( 20.93% of 585mmHG);

2. Mount Everest is at 8,048 meters, the atmospheric pressure there is around 253mmHG, which would mean that the partial pressure of oxygen would only be 53mmHg ( 20.93% of 253mmHG).

So there you have the answer, since the air is less dense the partial pressure will be lower so every time you breath you will inhale less molecules of oxygen. If there is less oxygen you will get tired quicker. But does altitude affect exercises where oxygen is not a factor, like jumping??? I will talk about that in my next blog,,,