Blood Volume 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 XC-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 than rowers and XC-skiers 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 XC-skiers.

The hallmark of athletic performance is a high aerobic capacity, which is in direct proportion to Hbmass (see illustration). A high Hbmass and hence RBCV will not only possess a high capacity to bind O2 but also facilitate O2 transport to the active skeletal muscles by facilitating a high cardiac output through the Frank-Sterling mechanism. On the other hand, across individuals hematocrit and hemoglobin concentration do not correlate with exercise performance.

Since Hbmass / RBCV has such a prominent role in athletic performance coaches aim to increase these through specific exercise training protocols or by applying training camps at high altitude or in warm environments. Potential changes in Hbmass will not be quantifiable if merely analyzing blood samples for hematocrit and hemoglobin concentration whereas direct measures of Hbmass are needed.

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