The Effect of Air Quality on Cycling Training

The Effect of Air Quality on Cycling Training

Virtually every day we see the effects of Climate Change.  Millenia-old icebergs come apart, hurricanes and typhoons become more destructive, and forest fires more common.  For athletes, the most readily felt effect of all this is on the quality of the air we breathe.

Exercising in dirty air is never a good idea.  But what constitutes dirty air?  The US Environmental Protection Agency uses a 0-300 scale called Air Quality Index (AQI).  AQI considers measurements of ozone, large and small particulates, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, so it’s a good indicator of when and when not to train outdoors and, perhaps more importantly, how hard to train, or not.  It’s important to note here that, for endurance athletes, the pollutants to really watch out for are small particle pollutants – those classified as PM2.5 – that easily enter the bloodstream through one’s lungs.  PM2.5s are commonly produced by vehicles, industry, dust storms, and forest fires.  The latter are increasingly common on the US west coast, once the standard bearer for clean air.

For healthy individuals, with no respiratory issues like asthma, sinusitis, or significant pollen allergies, hard exercise (defined as Level 3 or higher – that which, for most people, means breathing through the mouth as well as the nose, thereby bypassing the nasal passages’ natural filters) exercising with AQI levels above 150 is not recommended.  In this case, it’s better to either do your workout indoors, or just do an easier one if you really must get outside.  For levels above 150, the best option is to simply take the day off.

For our U.S. riders, you can find your local AQI at the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow Website.  Look at the top of the page.  You can select your area by zip code or state.

For our European riders, you can find your local European Environment Agency’s Air Quality Site. Look at the bottom of the page.  You can select your country for more details.