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Traveling to high altitude places. What happens with your glucose?

Hi there, it’s Maria again. In this blog post, I want to share my experience of traveling to my hometown, Bogotá, Colombia, which is located at an altitude of 2600m above sea level. As someone who lives in Berlin, a city at sea level, I was really curious to see how the altitude change would affect my glucose levels. The weather was almost the same in both cities (12 degrees on average), so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to compare how altitude affects the body.

 

Fig 1. Climbing Monserrate Mountain in Bogotá, Colombia at an altitude of 2600 to 3100m above sea level.

 

Fueling in high altitude 

I love Colombian food, and I was looking forward to eating it all while I was in Bogotá. However, to my surprise, I found that my appetite decreased in high altitudes. I ate a lot anyway, just because the food was delicious, but I was curious to see if my glucose levels were affected. I noticed that my glucose levels were on average much higher than in Berlin. When I was sleeping or fasting, my glucose levels in Bogotá were around 100-120mg/dl, while in Berlin, they were around 80-90mg/dl. I wondered if glucose levels were related to appetite, but I wasn’t sure. Most of the time, I was in my Glucose Performance Zone (GPZ), which is defined as the zone where your glucose levels are high enough to perform well while training, even though I wasn’t fueling. But did this mean that I didn’t need to fuel at all?

 

Training in high-altitude

As expected, my training performance dropped while I was in Bogotá. The lower availability of oxygen at higher altitudes meant that my body had to work harder to perform the same activities as I do in Berlin. Since my glucose levels were in the GPZ, I decided to go for a short easy pace run without fueling… but I felt like I had no energy during this run, and my heart rate went up as if I was running at a hard pace. In less than 20 minutes, my glucose levels started to dropped, and I had to stop. This was very different from my warm-up routines in Berlin. The same effort in Bogotá felt like a very hard session.

 

Fig 2. The short “easy pace” run in Bogotá. Even though my glucose levels were decent, I felt with no energy and my heart rate went up very fast.

 

Glucose Levels and Altitude 

Glucose levels are much higher at high altitudes. Although I was training at the same pace with the same glucose levels as in Berlin, I didn’t feel the same energy levels. This is why I think it’s essential for anyone using Supersapiens glucose sensors to take altitude into account and get to know their new average glucose level to adjust their Glucose Performance Zone (GPZ). If your body reacts to altitude changes like mine, your GPZ zone will be much higher at higher altitudes. On the other hand, if you live at high altitudes and travel to lower altitudes, your glucose levels may decrease, and your GPZ will also be lower than usual.

I also did some hiking in Bogotá, going from 2600m to 3100m in 40 minutes, without eating anything. Surprisingly, my glucose levels increased as soon as I started climbing, and they remained stable until I stopped. However, my energy levels were low, indicating that my glucose levels were not high enough. This experience taught me that, even though your glucose levels may be higher at higher altitudes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t need to fuel your body. 

 

Fig 3. The blue section represents a hiking where I went from 2600 to 3100m without fueling. My glucose levels seemed well but my energy feel was very low.

 

If you’re looking for a beautiful place to test out your glucose levels on altitude, don’t forget to put Colombia on your “Must Travel to This Place” list!

Until next time, 

Maria Paula

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