Training effects of donating blood

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Having completed several sessions of heavy exercise last week, I was then invited to donate blood on Friday afternoon. As a sports therapist I was very aware that my recovery from exercise would be reduced, but I thought I’d talk about other side effects.

Lets talk about blood….

In the average person, a pint of blood equates to just over 10 percent of total blood volume. Amazingly, after around 48 hours the body has already regenerated the blood in your system. However, the haemoglobin content in your blood takes around 3 weeks to return to normal levels. Haemoglobin is the chemical that reacts with oxygen and CO2 to transport gases around the body. As a result, less oxygen gets to muscles slowing the rate of recovery, both short and long term, and increasing the rate at which muscles fatigue. This can be seen as an issue for athletes, who need to maintain fast recovery and be ready for their next competition or training cycle. However, the alternative is to see it as deficit training. (As a slight aside at this point, in no way am I suggesting that giving blood and then dashing straight off to the gym to thrash yourself is a good idea. Be sensible! Always listen to what your body is telling you, and respect it. It’s the only one you’ve got.)

Deficit Training from Blood Donation

Reduced haemoglobin volume in your blood means your body must work that much harder to provide oxygen for your muscles during training, as well as recover afterwards. Progressively building back into training with this deficit, you are effectively performing altitude training. Before major events, athletes will often travel to camps at high altitude, where their bodies must become more efficient due to the lower oxygen levels. Then when they return to sea level, their muscles will be flooded with oxygen. Progressive training after blood donation is a very similar concept (without the jet setting of course). As a sports therapist we are always looking for way to help athletes improve their performance; endurance athletes particularly respond to the result of deficit or hypoxia training (1)

Other benefits of donating blood…

Giving blood also flushes out iron from the body. Particularly in males, iron builds up in the body, known as Haemochromatosis. Too much iron is poisonous, and can cause organ failure. By reducing haemoglobin levels, the body has a chance to ‘reset’ it’s iron levels, keeping the body healthy. Traditionally there would naturally have been a normal amount of blood loss over time through injury – nowadays though we tend to be able to avoid those! by Ed Miller

References & Further information

  1. Is hypoxia training good for muscles and exercise performance?
  2. The Haemochromatosis Society
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Headstart Sports Injury and Performance Clinic is owned and run by experienced sports massage therapist Vicki Marsh. We are based in Cambridge, UK, and specialise in resolving complex injuries that are causing acute or chronic pain,affecting quality of life and sporting performance. Vicki has over 12 years experience delivering sports massage to rowers, runners, international athletes and Olympic medallists.

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