How to Get the Lungs of a Mountain Sherpa

Do you struggle for breath during workouts? Is the panting and gasping stopping you from reaching your fitness potential? Get-Fit Guy takes a few lessons from the Sherpa people to help you increase oxygen capacity, lung capacity, and performance in any altitudes.

Ben Greenfield,
October 15, 2013
Episode #157

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How to Get Better Lungs

Whether you plan on exercising at altitude, climbing Mt. Everest, visiting a friend in Colorado, or simply want to have better oxygen carrying capacity for your workouts anywhere, here are 4 quick and dirty tips to help you get the lungs of a mountain Sherpa:

  1. Eat iron-rich foods. Your red blood cells use iron to help deliver oxygen to muscles, so if you’re low on iron, you may experience anemic-like symptoms whether you’re at altitude or sea level. In addition to cooking with cast-iron, you can also review some of the best iron-rich foods at WHFoods.com. These include lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, dark leafy greens, thyme, oregano and, of course, steak.
  2. Use resisted or restricted breathing. One of the endurance training strategies I’ve written about is to implement a variety of different fitness devices to challenge your lungs and body with altitude simulation. These strategies include wearing a resisted breathing mask, using a resisted breathing device, swimming using a snorkel with restricted air flow, sleeping in an altitude tent, training with a hypoxic air generator, and even using proper breathing patterns throughout your work day and a habitual deep diaphragmatic breathing pattern.
  3. Hydrate. As you’ve already learned, the atmosphere at higher elevations contains less oxygen and lower pressure. This can cause water to evaporate from your lungs and skin more quickly than at lower altitudes. When combined with your higher heart rate and faster breathing rate, this can result in a fast track to dehydration. So staying properly hydrated at high altitudes is important, and you should make it your goal to never “go thirsty” – which may require drinking nearly twice as much water as you’re used to! Of course, even if you’re not at altitude, adequate levels of hydration are going to make your workout much more comfortable. For more on this, my friend the Nutrition Diva has a fantastic article on how much water to drink.
  4. Use natural supplements. Specific natural substances have been proven to help alleviate altitude sickness and to assist with oxygen capacity. For example, rats dosed with vitamin C can endure higher altitudes in lab simulations. Also, anti-oxidants such as Vitamin E, glutathione and alpha-lipoic acid have all been shown to have a similar effect. The amino acid L-Glutamine can also have a protective effect at high altitudes. Finally, adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola and ginko biloba can also help with lung function and oxygen carrying capacity at both sea level and altitude.

If you combine these 4 strategies with a good training program (such as my recommended workout for becoming a better athlete), you’re going to find that you breathe much more easily during your workouts, and you handle altitude better too!

If you have more questions about how to get the lungs of a mountain Sherpa, then join the conversation at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

Sherpas image courtesy of Shutterstock.



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