Effects of EPO on blood parameters and running performance in Kenyan athletes

Diresibachew W Haile, Jérôme Durussel, Wondyefraw Mekonen, Neford Ongaro, Edwin Anjila, Martin Mooses, Evangelia Daskalaki, Kerli Mooses, John D. McClure, Shaun Sutehall, Yannis P. Pitsiladis

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Introduction: Recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEpo) administration enhances oxygen carrying capacity and performance at sea level. It remains unknown whether similar effects would be observed in chronic altitude-adapted endurance runners. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of rHuEpo on hematological and performance parameters in chronic altitude-adapted endurance runners as compared to sea level athletes. Methods: Twenty well-trained Kenyan endurance runners (KEN) living and training at approximately 2150 m received rHuEpo injections of 50 IU·kg−1 body mass every 2 d for 4 wk and responses compared with another cohort (SCO) that underwent an identical protocol at sea level. Blood samples were obtained at baseline, during rHuEpo administration and 4 wk after the final injection. A maximal oxygen uptake (V˙O2max) test and 3000-m time trial was performed before, immediately after and 4 wk after the final rHuEpo injection. Results: Hematocrit (HCT) and hemoglobin concentration (HGB) were higher in KEN compared to SCO before rHuEpo but similar at the end of administration. Before rHuEpo administration, KEN had higher V˙O2max and faster time trial performance compared to SCO. After rHuEpo administration, there was a similar increase in V˙O2max and time trial performance in both cohorts; most effects of rHuEpo were maintained 4 wk after the final rHuEpo injection in both cohorts. Conclusions: Four weeks of rHuEpo increased the HGB and HCT of Kenyan endurance runners to a lesser extent than in SCO (~17% vs ~10%, respectively) and these alterations were associated with similar improvements in running performance immediately after the rHuEpo administration (~5%) and 4 wk after rHuEpo (~3%).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299–307
Number of pages9
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • endurance performance
  • doping
  • chronic altitude exposure
  • East Africa

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