I understand that when we sweat, our blood volume decreases and less blood returns to our hearts to be re-oxygenated to fuel our muscles. I've read several articles about "blood doping" where elite athletes inject blood into their bodies before a race. Is this something that an average runner, like myself, who only wants to improve performance might consider? I don't expect to win any races, and wouldn't want to "cheat", but what harm could I do by increasing my blood volume before a race? - Dopey
It certainly is true that there have been athletes who have transfused their blood volume with a previously extracted supply from their own personal "blood banks", as a means towards increasing the number of oxygen carrying red blood cells in their bodies. This is strictly against the rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations, and is frowned upon by every runners group and association in the world. It is considered cheating, on par with the use of performance enhancing drugs and steroid use.
There is little conclusive evidence to support that notion that a significant increase in your red cell count will improve performance, but in theory it makes sense. Since our muscles require oxygen as part of our metabolism, if we can ensure a steady, hefty supply of the "double Oh" stuff to our muscles, then our ability to run fast and far should be ensured.
Then, there is the case of the Indonesian world-class female marathoner Ruwiyati (no sur-name here; that would use up too much oxygen) who has been known to drink the blood of her coach at the end of her races. "I don't know why, but as soon as I reach the finish line, I suck my coach's blood from his finger and I feel refreshed", Ruwiyati has been quoted as saying. Could this be considered evidence for the positive aspects of blood doping? Probably not, when you consider that most athletes find similar refreshment with a cold beverage and a piece of fruit. Ruwiyati would do well to consider that, ingested orally, hemoglobin will not make its way into her blood stream. With all due respect to Ms. Ruwiyati; there is not much of a difference between doping, and being a "dope"!
But our search for proof of athletic performance enhancement due to the increase in red corpuscles might be found in the animal kingdom, where the creature Desmodus Rotundus or "vampire bat" feed on the blood of large birds, cattle, horses and pigs. A recent study found that in addition to flying, these blood-lapping vermin have the ability to run on all fours! Developed through evolution, the vampire bats ability to run is useful when sprinting after smaller animals that refuse to sit still while being fed upon. Instead of "sucking" the blood from their victims, the vampire bat actually laps at the incision they make in an animals skin. This makes feeding on large animals like cows an easy task, but smaller, more agile critters tend to scamper away when these mini-Nosferatu's come calling. Researchers found that bats, running on laboratory treadmills, could achieve a speed of 2.7 miles per hour. Given more room to maneuver, researchers estimate that the bats could run twice that fast at an 11 minute per mile pace!
So let's review: we have a world class Indonesian marathoner who credits much of her success on her habit of drinking her coaches hemoglobin at the end of every race, and we have furry little "rat-things" that can run faster than some back of the pack runners in a 5k.
While the blood sucking runner can certainly run fast, her appetite for the strange cannot be correlated to her athletic prowess. It is just weird. And in the case of the vampire bat, well…do you really want to trust your race performance on a flying rat's ability to run on a treadmill after a hemoglobin meal?
My advice is to drink your favorite sports drink, and lay off the red stuff.
Run long and taper.