Haemoglobin Mass Determines Athletic Performance

The Hallmark of Athletic Performance is a High Aerobic Capacity

Adult non-athletic females and males have blood volumes corresponding to approximately 4 and 5 liters, respectively. This will vary depending on amongst others body size, genetic factors, and physical activity. Per kg body weight these volumes usually correspond to between 60 and 65 ml blood/ kg body weight.

Endurance athletes – who by nature are physically very active and who are likely also to be genetically predisposed for athletic traits possess much higher blood volumes with values reaching up to even 10 liters in large champion rowers and cross country skiers. This corresponds to up to 110-120 ml blood/ kg body weight. In world champion distance runners – who are generally much smaller and lighter – absolute blood volumes may only be 6 liters but since their body mass is low their blood volume/ body weight ratio will be similar to those in rowers and cross country skiers.

Measurement of Haemoglobin is Important

The hallmark of athletic performance is a high aerobic capacity, which is directly proportional to haemoglobin mass. (Hbmass ) A high Hbmass and hence high red blood cell volume (RBCV) not only possess a high capacity to bind O2 but also to drive O2 transport to the active skeletal muscles. This facilitates a high cardiac output for the athlete through the Frank-Sterling mechanism.

Tracking Haemoglobin as a Training Tool

Importantly, hematocrits and hemoglobin concentration do not correlate with exercise performance. However, haemoglobin mass has such a prominent role in determining athletic performance that coaches aim to increase this through specific exercise training protocols or by arranging training camps at high altitude or in warm environments. Potential changes in haemoglobin mass will not be quantifiable if merely analyzing blood samples for hematocrit and haemoglobin concentration. Only, direct measures of haemoglobin mass are needed using methods and tools such as the Detalo Performance™.

Olympic institutions in Norway (Olympiatoppen), Switzerland (BASPO), and Denmark (Team Danmark) use the Detalo Performance™ in champion athletes to track the effects of specific exercise training strategies on blood volume. This provides coaches with valuable information used to customize training recommendations for individual athletes. We are proud to service a few world-class athletes also.

For further scientific reading on the topic:

Lundby C, Robach P
Performance Enhancement: What Are the Physiological Limits?
Physiology (Bethesda). 2015, link

Lundby C, Montero D, Joyner M
“Biology of VO2 max: looking under the physiology lamp.”
Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2017, link

Lundby C, Robach P
“Does ‘altitude training’ increase exercise performance in elite athletes?”
Exp Physiol. 2016, link

Montero D, Breenfeldt-Andersen A, Oberholzer L, Haider T, Goetze JP, Meinild-Lundby AK, Lundby C
“Erythropoiesis with endurance training: dynamics and mechanisms.”
Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017, link