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The Physiological Advantages And Disadvantages To Athletic Sports Performance

3882 words - 16 pages


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 doping, and indeed what makes it particularly
appealing to the athlete, is that accurate detection is near
impossible since it is very hard to make a distinction between
autologously transfused erythrocytes and untreated erythrocytes. Also,
that the athlete who trains at a high altitude naturally induces an
increase in erythrocyte production, one cannot be unfailingly certain
that the abnormally high haematocrit is due to blood doping.

The Premise of Blood Doping

The grounds for the use of blood doping are that oxygen is transported
in the body bound to haemoglobin (Wilmore, 1994), so an increase in
erythrocyte mass, and so haemoglobin, will cause a subsequent increase
in arterial oxygen content, and thus an increase in the amount of
oxygen delivered to the exercising tissues. As a result, aerobic
endurance, and thus performance, may be substantially increased
(Wilmore, 1994).

However, that the ensuing improvement in endurance performance seen on
blood doping is often considerably less than expected, extensive
uncertainty is cast over the precise means through which such
increased capacity is accomplished. There exists considerable debate

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