What’s The Truth About The Altitude Effect?

November 30th, 2012

Tomorrow the Bucs will fly to Denver’s Mile High Stadium — or whatever name is slapped on it these days — and will play Sunday in the famed suffocating altitude that’s been known to consume those that aren’t physically or mentally prepared.

But Greg Schiano isn’t concerned about such things.

In fact, the leader of the New Schiano Order said today that the level of oxygen in the Colorado air will not fatigue any Buccaneers quicker than usual as long as they’ve loaded up on water.


“I’ll bring it up [to players] because the facts [about altitude adjustment] are actually favorable. We get in and we get out and, you know, you’re fine. As long as you hydrate, you’re fine,” Schiano said. “Now if you’re going to spend an extended period of time there, and your body then gets acclimated, there’s a whole medical thing that occurs then, that’s a different story. Hydration is the key, though.”

Joe never heard of such a thing, and Joe heard Gerald McCoy talk earlier this week on the Buccaneers Radio Network about how Colorado altitude affected him in college.

“My first time being up there and playing a game, you know, when I got off the bus I was struggling,” McCoy said of a college game in Colorado. “So [against the Broncos], definitley out of all the games we’ve played up to this point, our rotation has to be key. You can’t try to be Superman in this game. … If you’re tired, come out.”

Joe also heard Brian Billick on radio this week talking about how he counseled players not to freak out when they got tired in Denver pregame warmups. Joe also talked to former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson, who played all his college home games at altitude, and Carlson said he’d seen guys affected by it and also heard all kinds of altitude guidance from coaches, none of which seemed to be worthwhile.

So what’s the reality in all this?

Joe turned to renowned altitude guru Dr. Robert Roach, director of the Altitude Research Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He’s a big shot in the field of high altitude medicine and physiology, and exercise performance.  

Roach said Schiano is on the money when it comes to hydration. The dry air in Denver, especially versus Tampa, is the issue. The human body is designed to fully humidify the air we breathe by the time it reaches our lungs, Roach explained, so to do that at Mile High players need to suck that water out of their circulation. If it’s not replaced with enough oral fluids, dehydration will happen.

But Roach referenced one issue that Schiano likely can’t prepare for — bad sleep.

Roach said the No. 1 complaint of people coming to Denver altitude is disturbed sleep caused by a chemical shift in the brain that is struggling to adjust to the low oxygen level.

Of course, a lousy night sleep can lead to fatigue.

Roach also referenced that the mere “idea” of visitors concerned about altitude can play to the Broncos’ benefit. And Bucs icon John Lynch, a former Broncos Pro Bowler, said on WDAE-AM 620 this week that signs all over Mile High stadium referencing the altitude are there to get in the heads of visitors.

McCoy said the Bucs’ mentality is critical.

“I mean if you go in there expecting not to be able to breathe, you might not be able to breathe,” McCoy said. “But if you go in there with the right mindset, and have the mindset of ‘I don’t care what the altitude is like,’ then it’s not going to play a factor in whether I execute an assignment to the best of my abilities, or whether I read my keys.”

Regardless of whether the effects of altitude are real or imagined, or somewhere in between, Joe’s confident at least some of the Bucs will be affected. That’s an advantage for the Broncos.

28 Responses to “What’s The Truth About The Altitude Effect?”

  1. Chad Says:

    Joe…we take a group of high school seniors from charlotte nc to breckenridge to ski every year and I can testify to both comments about water and sleepless nights. We always recommend a water increase at least 3 weeks prior to the trip asking kids to increase an extra 48-64 oz of water a day on top of their normal consumption.

    The second part of sleeplessness is hit or miss, but can certainly happen.

  2. Adam L. Says:

    This is a great story, Joe. Something that goes above and beyond just the standard sports news. More science stuff!

  3. SeanyMac in SC Says:

    Joe, thanks for the research into this. I was curious how “out prepare” NSO was going to approach this. Hopefully the Bucs will not be too affected by the thin air. This match up against Denver is not too good for the Bucs, but hopefully we can catch a break and maybe eek out a W.

  4. jvato24 Says:

    I will be there .. making the trip out there tomorrow. I wonder if the thin air affects a beer buzz. Haha. Anyone see that Lavonte David is NFL Defensive player of the month. Player not rookie.

  5. Dave Says:

    I lived in Colorado most of the 1990’s. What Schiano says is dead on. You dehydrate QUICK. As for the altitude. IT never botherd me when going there for the first couple weeks. After that though, you can get headaches and bloody noses for a few weeks as your body adjusts.
    Takes about 6-8 weeks to adjust completely (for me anyway).

    One thing I could never adjust to was climbing stairs at altitude. Kicked my A$$$ every time and I was in pretty good shape out there in the USAF.

  6. Miguel El Magnifico Says:

    The Little General is full of crap on this one. Some people will get altitude sickness, some will be extremely fatigued and gasping for air. I start to be affected at 1500′, Denver is 3 times that altitude.

    I crossed the Rockies this summer in a group, some were vomiting, light headed and had headaches, although we went as high as 3 times the altitude of Denver.

    I once read that people who lived at altitude had several more quarts of blood than sea level people. Professional cyclists like to train in the mountains, it’s kind of a natural blood doping. More blood, more oxygen retention, more endurance.

    Hydration is another problem, you don’t realize that you’re becoming dehydrated because you’re not pouring sweat which would signal a Florida resident to drink copious amounts of water. We were in the high desert and didn’t even realize that it was 115 degrees out. Your clothes wouldn’t even get damp but we were dehydrating like crazy.

  7. Joe D. Says:

    I haven’t thought about it since Coach Schiano talked about hydration in camp, but come to think of it I haven’t heard of anyone cramping or needing IV fluids this year or even any hammy issues (they usually seem come from cramps). Knock on Wood. Send like evidence players are “buying in”!

  8. BKNYfootballhead Says:


    Did you even read the story? If Schiano is wrong about this, then I presume the renowned altitude guru Dr. Robert Roach, director of the Altitude Research Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine is just full of hot air.

    Your existence is a waist of oxygen to us all.

  9. Have A Nice Day Says:

    This is all true. Hydration is huge when shifting altitudes. Just ask mountain climbers.

    Sleep issues, however, are very common with altitude and pressure changes.

    I suggest portable hyperberic chambers for the whole team lol

  10. Have A Nice Day Says:

    Spammed twice in a row. I give up 🙁

  11. Pete Dutcher Says:

    Joe D., that’s a really good point. Now that you mention it, I can’t recall that happening either.

    Have A Nice Day, isn’t it weird how our comments will sometimes get spanned but our complaints about getting spammed never do? lol

    Off topic, won’t it be strange possibly playing against Monte Kiffin next year?

  12. Miguel El Magnifico Says:

    BKNYfootballhead Says:


    “Did you even read the story”

    Did you? There are two issues, playing at attitude and hydration.

    “Roach said Schiano is on the money when it comes to hydration. The dry air in Denver, especially versus Tampa, ”

    I say the Little General is full of crap because he is confusing the two or thinks they are one and they same. I believe you have very poor reading comprehensive skills or you are Schiano posting on this site under a pseudonym.

    I addressed the two separate and different problems with a personal anecdote, Dr Roach addressed hydration. He also said on a side note, altitude causes missed sleep, one of many altitude problems.

    I noticed people in our group got physically sick at 3000′ and stayed sick until we went below 1500′. That will affect a sea level football team and drinking water does not help altitude sickness.

  13. Pete Dutcher Says:

    Miguel El Magnifico, I use to mountain climb in the north, and have even done it in Slovakia, Norway and Sweden. Never once did the altitude affect me. And I climbed mountains that had snow on the caps in the summer they were so high.

    If anything, oddly, I felt more energized. I don’t know why. I know that’s not the norm for most people. Maybe there is something genetic in some people. I know once thing though…just climbing stairs takes my breath away these days.

  14. Have A Nice Day Says:

    @Pete – I kind of understand. I’m pretty sure the word hyper beric(added the space to avoid the spam) is the cause.

  15. Have A Nice Day Says:

    And as that comment went through, it was certainly that word lol

  16. Have A Nice Day Says:

    @ Miguel – Come on, guy. One of the causes of altitude sickness is dehydration. Give it to Schiano for at least knowing that much. Yes, there may be more to it, but you lambasted him for pointing out a fact.

    The athletes on this team train extremely hard under this coach. Yourself has pointed that out numerous times. All that training has certainly increased their peak oxygen uptake as well as their ability to perform with less oxygen. That will certainly aid them in adapting to the pressure changes in Denver.

    I imagine this is a reason Schiano is confident…. then again, what good coach is gonna use altitude sickness as an excuse?

  17. BigMacAttack Says:

    Altitude affects everyone differently. The better your conditioning the better your experience. It is also a certain degree of mind over matter. It is the same with the Sea and mental toughness helps to overcome it.

    I have climbed Mt Harvard, Mt Yale, and Mt Princeton near Buena Vista, Co. Also rock Climbed on the 3 Apostles. The only problems I ever had was with dryness and lack of humidity, but it took much more than a day or two to cause any discomfort or difference. If say just don’t think about it. I wouldn’t have even mentioned it to the players. Drink water and know its just another day at the office.

  18. Have A Nice Day Says:

    “I have climbed Mt Harvard, Mt Yale, and Mt Princeton near Buena Vista, Co. Also rock Climbed on the 3 Apostles.”


  19. passthebuc Says:

    Were that an absolute, I would have less trouble when I ski. Hydration is the key however, there is one problem, you don’t feel like consuming copious quantities of liquid. They will need trainers to stay on their toes making sure the proper liquids are taken.

  20. Buc Fan #238 Says:

    Great write up Joe! I was ready to knee jerk and comment 3 different times… but you kept me reading with your sources. Nice job.

    I am not even going worry that since Obama dropped the ball in his first debate as a reason for these players to use it as an excuse regardless.

  21. Have A Nice Day Says:

    @Buc Fan #238 – HA! I didn’t even know what you meant until I googled “obama altitude”.
    lmao Great line.

  22. Army Buc Says:

    They should have arrived a few days early so they can adapt. I’m in Afghanistan and it took us about 4 days to get comfortable at 5000 feet.

    Joe, We do so good in the 2 min and hurry up. If Denver is going to do it to us, why don’t we do it to them?

    We are going to slow it down and wait till the end to hurry up. We should just come out of the box lighting it up!

  23. BigMacAttack Says:

    Army Buc, may God watch over you and keep you safe, all of you.

  24. Pete Dutcher Says:

    Army Buc, I’m not sure going several days ahead of time is an option. God Bless and protect, and come back safely soon!

  25. Patrick Says:

    Last game we played at Mile High was in 2008. We lost 16-13.

  26. bob Says:

    been to denver and ski trips many times felt like superman , you do need to drink more but the rest is bs,also went higher altitude ,south america same thing just drink water

  27. Dave Says:

    “…but the rest is bs”

    Maybe for you it is. Altitude and the lack of oxygen (the thing air) affects people differently. Like I said, for me, it never bothered me for the first 2 weeks, but then headaches and bloddy noses would start. After about a month it wold stop and then I’d be fine.
    Happened when I moved there for the USAF and then when I returned after being in Korea for a year.

    Schiano is dead-on with the stay hydrated take though. Helps tremendously with the dry air and the oxygen in the body.

  28. Army Buc Says:

    BigMacAttack and Pete Dutcher thanks for you wishes! GO BUCS!