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Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181badd67
Applied Sciences

Total Hemoglobin Mass and Blood Volume of Elite Kenyan Runners

PROMMER, NICOLE1; THOMA, STEFANIE2; QUECKE, LENNART1; GUTEKUNST, THOMAS1; VÖLZKE, CHRISTIAN1; WACHSMUTH, NADINE1; NIESS, ANDREAS MICHAEL2; SCHMIDT, WALTER1

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Abstract

Several East Africans are among the most successful runners worldwide. The physiological reasons underlying this superiority are, however, not yet known.

Purpose: To evaluate the total hemoglobin mass (tHb-mass) and blood volume (BV) of Kenyan runners and their adaptation to near sea level.

Methods: tHb-mass, BV, and V˙O2max were determined in 10 male Kenyan runners (10-km best time = 28:29 ± 00:27 min) residing at an altitude of 2090 m over the course of a 6-wk training camp at sea level. Their values were compared with those of elite German runners (10-km best time = 30:39 ± 00:24 min).

Results: Kenyans are characterized by significantly lower body mass (Kenyans = 57.2 ± 7.0 kg; Germans = 66.5 ± 6.3 kg) and body mass index (Kenyans = 18.5 ± 0.9; Germans = 20.4 ± 0.9). Relative tHb-mass (Kenyans = 14.2 ± 1.0 g·kg−1; Germans = 14.0 ± 0.7 g·kg−1) and BV (Kenyans = 101.9 ± 4.5 mL·kg−1; Germans = 99.6 ± 5.8 mL·kg−1) were similar in both groups but were decreased in Kenyans during the stay at near sea level (absolute tHb-mass from 813 ± 90 g·mL−1 to 767 ± 90 g, P < 0.001; BV from 5828 ± 703 g·mL−1 to 5513 ± 708 mL, P < 0.01). Relative V˙O2max was similar in both groups (Kenyans 71.5 ± 5.0 mL·kg−1·min−1; Germans 70.7 ± 3.7 mL·kg−1·min−1).

Conclusion: The oxygen transport of the blood cannot explain the superior endurance performance of Kenyan runners. Most measured parameters are in the same range as those of elite German runners, and tHb-mass even deteriorates after an adaptation to near sea level.

©2010The American College of Sports Medicine

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