Impact of Blood Volume on Athletic Performance

Champions have very high Blood Volumes

Endurance athletes possess much higher blood volumes than non-athletes. Champion rowers and cross country skiers can reach values as high as 10 liters, almost double that of non-athletes. World champion distance runners are generally smaller and lighter may reach levels of up to 6 liters of blood but their blood volume to body weight ratio is also extremely high. Understanding how training affects blood volume is of critical importance for these champions.

Hemoglobin is the Hallmark of Performance

The hallmark of athletic performance is a high aerobic capacity which is directly related to the volume of red blood cells (hemoglobin) in the blood. A high red blood cell volume facilitates a high oxygen transport to the active skeletal muscles by facilitating a high cardiac output. Higher volume of red blood cells equals higher athletic performance.

Consequently, improvement of hemoglobin mass has such a prominent role in the training of high-performance athletes. Coaches track hemoglobin metrics closely and advise on specific exercise training protocols or arrange training camps at high altitude or in warm environments.

Read more about how blood volume affects athletic performance here.

A Century with CO Rebreathing

Methods for measuring blood volume dates back to the late 1800s. The use of carbon monoxide (CO) as a tracer was first proposed by French scientists Grehant and Quinquaud in 1882. Soon after a usable set-up for human use was developed by eminent Oxford scientists John Haldane and Lorrain Smith and presented in the Journal of Physiology in 1900.

All of the inhaled CO would bind to hemoglobin and become distributed equally throughout the circulation. For the time, their measurement precision was an impressive ~8%. Haldane and his Oxford colleague Claude Douglas applied their CO re-breathing method to study the effects of altitude exposure on hemoglobin mass during research expeditions to Mount Teide on Tenerife in 1910 and to Pikes Peak in Colorado in 1911. The results from the later study suggested a 30% increase in hemoglobin mass, even if this was likely a measurement artifact associated with the difficulties associated with quantifying CO in blood at that time.

Read the full history of CO-rebreathing here. 

Detalo Blood Volume Analyzers

Detalo automatically determines total blood volume, red blood cell volume and plasma volume in humans in a rapid, safe and precise manner.

The Detalo Performance is to be used for athletes and science and is available for purchase today. The Detalo Clinical is currently going through the medical certification procedures and should be available for clinical use in 2020.