Machu Picchu Backpacking

Anyone considering a Machu Picchu backpacking trip needs to consider the high altitude. This May I’m traveling to Peru to guide clients on Sol Fitness Adventures Inca Trail Trek, Machu Picchu, Peru. Naturally, I want to know how I should be training to prepare for the challenges of high altitude.

Much research has been done to show the physiological benefits of training at altitude. However, short of blood doping, it is difficult to prepare the body for the actual changes that will take place immediately upon arrival at high altitude. What is necessary is a dedicated effort to the most practical aspects of training the body, paying attention to physical training and dietary guidelines.

Physical Training Guidelines:

1. Cardiovascular. Train the body for the stress of decreased oxygen by doing bouts of cardio for up to one hour, six days a week. It’s best to exercise outside, on a hilly, uneven surface. While the majority of cardio bouts should be performed at 65% of your maximum heart rate, don’t forget interval training. Short intervals that cause a rapid increase in the heart rate and deprive the muscles of oxygen will result in the production of lactic acid. Lactic acid can cause muscle soreness, which won’t be fun to experience for the first time on the mountain. Start including intervals in your training routine now to train the body to metabolize lactic acid and speed muscle recovery time.

2. Strength. A significant loss of body mass is observed during long-term exposure to high altitude. It’s best to go into the situation with strong, well developed muscles that have been exposed to various forms of training. Train for muscular endurance (high reps) and don’t forget to vary your routine to stimulate continuous muscle development.

Dietary Guidelines:

1. Food. Eating complex carbs and low salt foods has been shown to be beneficial in decreasing the risk of mountain sickness. In addition, women and vegetarians should consider iron supplementation. Iron enhances the rate of hematocrit increase at altitude, allowing the body to sustain an increase in red blood cell production to deliver oxygen to working muscles.

2. Drinking fluids. Thin air at high altitude contains less water, causing an increase in urine production and respiration. Increased water consumption prior to arriving at altitude and during the acclimatization process is a must.

3. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of mountain sickness, so it’s best to start cutting out the substance before arriving at altitude and avoid it altogether during the acclimatization process.

Dedicating the time to prepare for your trip to the mountains is important, and so is doing it the right way. Sol Fitness Adventures has developed training programs for the recreation hiker to prepare for these adventures. Click here to see our list of programs.

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