Greater erythrocyte deformability in world-class endurance athletes

John A. Smith, David T. Martin, Richard D. Telford, Samir K. Ballas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Because athletes during endurance events require rapid uptake of oxygen, the ability of red blood cells (RBC) to move through capillaries may limit performance. Using ektacytometry, we determined whether RBC deformability (RCD) differed between elite road cyclists (n = 9) and sedentary controls (n = 5). Density profiles and standard hematological measurements were also performed. The deformability index (DI) was higher in the cyclists (0.723 ± 0.027) compared with that in controls (0.619 ± 0.040, P < 0.001). Cyclists also had a larger percentage of low-density RBCs (P < 0.001), and mean cell volume (MCV) was also higher (P = 0.013). These findings are indicative of a larger proportion of 'young' RBCs in the blood of elite cyclists and provide further evidence that the turnover of RBCs in endurance athletes is higher than in the general population. With a younger more deformable RBC population and providing the destruction does not exceed replacement, performance potential should be enhanced. Furthermore, examination of factors that contribute to increased RBC turnover in athletes may help us understand the mechanisms that cause RBC aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2188-2193
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 1999
Externally publishedYes


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