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blood donation timing and race performance
Red Blood Cells...At A Glance
Summary
* Red blood cells (RBCs) contain hemoglobin, the main constituent that carries oxygen to the muscles during exercise.*1
* The typical male distance runner may have about 10-12 pints of blood, so donating one pint will result an an approximate 8% to 10% decrease in total blood volume, RBCs, and hemoglobin concentration.*1
* Regeneration of the RBCs and hemoglobin concentration may take 4 to 8 weeks, so aerobic endurance performance, which depends on adequate amounts of oxygen, may be impaired during the early stages of recovery from blood donation.*1
* Donating blood may make you feel somewhat more tired during your training runs for about a week but should not impair submaximal running thereafter.*1
* Iron and serum ferritin deficiency can also affect aerobic performance. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin. However, too much iron can damage your organs, so you should not take supplemental iron without consulting a physician who can test and monitor your iron levels.*2
* Training at altitude can actually increase the hemoglobin content of your blood. That is why many of the elite runners either train at altitude or use an altitude simulator.*3

I read an interesting article in Marathon and Beyond about donating blood and race performance. However, please don't let this dissuade you from giving blood. I think it's a very important way to give back to the community. The point of the article was to time your blood donation so that it doesn't impact a race you've trained for all year.

Below is an excerpt from the article*1:

"...Red blood cells (RBCs) contain hemoglobin, the main constituent that carries oxygen to the muscles during exercise. The typical male distance runner may have about 10-12 pints of blood, so donating one pint will result in an approximate 8%-10% decrease in total blood volume, RBCs, and hemoglobin concentration... Regeneration of the RBCs and hemoglobin concentration may take four to eight weeks, so aerobic endurance performance, which depends on adequate amounts of oxygen, may be impaired during the early stages of recovery from blood donation...

In essence, if you have an important race on your schedule, you may want to avoid donating blood for 6 to 8 weeks prior to the race...

Donating blood may make you feel somewhat more tired during your training runs for about a week but should not impair submaximal running thereafter."

This is similar to the effects felt with an iron or serum ferritin deficiency. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin. It can be lost through foot strike hemolysis, sweat and urine, GI system, and menstruation. However, too much iron can damage internal organs, so you should not take supplemental iron without consulting a physician who can test and monitor your iron levels.

On the other hand, training at altitude has the opposite effect. That's why many of the elite runners train at altitude. "The primary benefit of altitude training is an increase in the natural production of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which increases the hemoglobin content of your blood. Oxygen is transported in your blood attached to hemoglobin. An increase in EPO, therefore, leads to an increase in the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood, which lets more oxygen reach your muscles allowing you to maintain a faster pace." (from Living High and Training Low by Pete Pfitzinger)



*1 Mel Williams (former director of Human Performance Lab at Old Dominion University and member of Marathon and Beyond's Science Advisory Board)
*2 Coach Pete Pfitzinger, M.S. (Running and Rusting Article)
*3 Coach Pete Pfitzinger, M.S. (Living High and Training Low Article)