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

Cite this

Haile, D. W., Durussel, J., Mekonen, W., Ongaro, N., Anjila, E., Mooses, M., ... Pitsiladis, Y. P. (2019). Effects of EPO on blood parameters and running performance in Kenyan athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 51(2), 299–307. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000001777