The Physiological Advantages and Disadvantages to Athletic Sports Performance

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Blood doping, or induced erythrocythemia, is a term used to describe

any means by which a person’s total volume of red blood cells is

increased (Wilmore, 1994). The strategy has been adopted by a number

of athletes, with positive results in endurance sports such as

cycling, cross-country skiing and long-distance running. Whilst a

fairly small increase in erythrocyte mass is seen in athletes after

months of endurance training, dishonest athletes may strive to

increase their erythrocyte mass further through the illegal and

unethical processes blood doping or administration of human

recombinant erythropoietin (rHuEPO).

The potential benefits of using such procedures are alluring to the

athlete; the increase in erythrocyte mass (and so too in haemoglobin)

causes a subsequent increase in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the

blood, providing an increased supply of oxygen to the active muscles

and making them more fatigue-resistant. Furthermore, the increased

erythrocyte mass causes improved thermoregulation and lactate

buffering, which are also of great advantage to the athlete competing

in an endurance event.

If used in a controlled environment, blood doping may alter

erythrocyte concentration with nominal side effects. The inherent

problem of blood doping is concerned with abuse rather than use, with

athletes re-infusing excessive amounts of erythrocytes to constantly

improve endurance performance to its maximum, to maintain their reign

at number one in their sport. This puts considerable strain on the

cardiovascular system and can lead to, sometimes fatal, physiological


The quandary with blood ...

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... Sport. ISLH XIVth

International Symposium p. 20

[4] Cazzola, M (2001) Erythropoietin Pathophysiology, Clinical Uses of

Recombinant Human Erythropoietin, and Medical Risks of Its Abuse in

Endurance Sports. ISLH XIVth International Symposium p.21-22

[5] Thomas, JA (1988) Drugs, Athletes and Physical Performance. Plenum

Publishing Corporation, New York. P.147-167

[6] McArdle WD, Katch FI, Katch VL (1996) Exercise Physiology –

Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance. 4th edition. Williams and

Wilkins. P. 465-467

[7] Gledhill N, Warburton D (1992) Haemoglobin, Blood Volume and

Endurance in The Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine Endurance in Sport

ed: Shephard and Astrand. 2nd edition. Blackwell Science. P. 423-437

[8] Wilmore JH, Costill DL (1994) Physiology of Sport and Exercise.

Human Kinetics. P. 338-344.
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