The Green Bay Packers know all about the high altitude they'll be playing in on Monday night, and they're doing everything they can to prepare for it.
The team's director of research and development, Mike Eayrs, gave a brief presentation of information from medical journals during the Friday morning team meeting that outlined the steps the players can take to prep their bodies for the thinner, drier air of the Rocky Mountains.
First and foremost is to hydrate the body. Denver is approximately 5,200 feet above sea level, or nearly a mile high (hence "Invesco Field at Mile High"), and breathing the drier air at high altitudes takes moisture from the body, forcing it to lose fluids faster.
The most common symptom of altitude sickness is a headache, and while that's commonly associated with breathing thin air, it's more often a result of dehydration from breathing dry air.
"They really want to emphasize us hydrating really well, starting right now up until the game," said rookie fullback Korey Hall, who played in college at Boise State, which is at approximately half the elevation of Denver. "I think it is a little tougher to breathe, but I think we should be all right. It can definitely be a factor, but I don't think it's so big a factor it can lose us the game. As long as everybody stays hydrated, we should be all right."
Another step is to get plenty of rest, particularly when first arriving in Denver. The body will adjust to the higher altitude within the initial three to four hours in the different climate, and the players will have their down time after getting to the hotel late Sunday afternoon. The body's transition will be smoother if it is resting during the adjustment period.
Also, loading up on carbohydrates will help. Being well-stocked in carbs will slow down fatigue and help offset any fatigue from the thin air and potential shortness of breath.
Cornerback Charles Woodson, who played one game per season in Denver while with AFC West rival Oakland the first eight years of his career, said the adjustment for the Packers won't be quite as dramatic as he's experienced before. Green Bay is around 600 feet above sea level whereas Oakland is less than 100, so more than 10 percent of the elevation change is already accounted for.
Beyond that, Woodson said, it's a matter of preparing the body as well as possible ahead of time, and understanding that a well-conditioned body will grow accustomed to the change.
"It can have an affect on you," Woodson said. "You can get yourself a little winded early as the game first starts, and then you kind of get used to it as the game plays on. It's a long game, and you have to be ready for it."
That said, there's a fine line between being aware of what your body will have to adjust to and being worried about it during the heat of competition.
Cornerback Jarrett Bush played his college football at Utah State (with an elevation of 4,700 feet), and he saw many visiting players affected by the high altitude because they lost the mental battle first.
"If you're running and you get tired, and you're like, 'Man, the altitude is killing me,' you're letting it get to you, mentally," Bush said. "Basically you can't use that as a crutch, you can't use that as an excuse. If you're not thinking about it, it won't affect you, but if you're thinking about it, you won't be able to breathe as easy."
The physical preparation the Packers are planning should help with that mental game as well.
"Just hydrate and keep drinking water, even when we get on the plane," Bush said. "Because when you're on the plane, you tend to sleep and you don't get any liquids. So you just have to hydrate big-time and get your rest."