Autologous blood transfusion enhances exercise performance - strength of the evidence and physiological mechanisms

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This review critically evaluates the magnitude of performance enhancement that can be expected from various autologous blood transfusion (ABT) procedures and the underlying physiological mechanisms. The review is based on a systematic search, and it was reported that 4 of 28 studies can be considered of very high quality, i.e. placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover studies. However, both high-quality studies and other studies have generally reported performance-enhancing effects of ABT on exercise intensities ranging from ~70 to 100% of absolute peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) with durations of 5-45 min, and the effect was also seen in well-trained athletes. A linear relationship exists between ABT volume and change in VO2peak. The likely correlation between ABT volume and endurance performance was not evident in the few available studies, but reinfusion of as little as 135 mL packed red blood cells has been shown to increase time trial performance. Red blood cell reinfusion increases endurance performance by elevating arterial oxygen content (CaO2). The increased CaO2 is accompanied by reduced lactate concentrations at submaximal intensities as well as increased VO2peak. Both effects improve endurance performance. Apparently, the magnitude of change in haemoglobin concentration ([Hb]) explains the increase in VO2peak associated with ABT because blood volume and maximal cardiac output have remained constant in the majority of ABT studies. Thus, the arterial-venous O2 difference during exercise must be increased after reinfusion, which is supported by experimental evidence. Additionally, it remains a possibility that ABT can enhance repeated sprint performance, but studies on this topic are lacking. The only available study did not reveal a performance-enhancing effect of reinfusion on 4 × 30 s sprinting. The reviewed studies are of importance for both the physiological understanding of how ABT interacts with exercise capacity and in relation to anti-doping efforts. From an anti-doping perspective, the literature review demonstrates the need for methods to detect even small ABT volumes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
JournalSports Medicine - Open
Volume5
Number of pages11
ISSN2199-1170
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • The Faculty of Science - Phlebotomy, Transfusion, Arterial oxygen content, Maximal oxygen uptake, Maximal cardiac output, Anti-doping

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