Influence of combined iron supplementation and simulated hypoxia on the haematological module of the athlete biological passport

Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Victor L. Vuong, Andrew D. Govus, Yorck Olaf Schumacher, David Hughes, Greg Lovell, Daniel Eichner, Christopher J. Gore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The integrity of the athlete biological passport (ABP) is underpinned by understanding normal fluctuations of its biomarkers to environmental or medical conditions, for example, altitude training or iron deficiency. The combined impact of altitude and iron supplementation on the ABP was evaluated in endurance-trained athletes (n = 34) undertaking 3 weeks of simulated live-high: train-low (14 h.d-1, 3000 m). Athletes received either oral, intravenous (IV) or placebo iron supplementation, commencing 2 weeks prior and continuing throughout hypoxic exposure. Venous blood was sampled twice prior, weekly during, and up to 6 weeks after altitude. Individual ABP thresholds for haemoglobin concentration ([Hb]), reticulocyte percentage (%retic), and OFF score were calculated using the adaptive model and assessed at 99% and 99.9% specificity. Eleven athletes returned values outside of the calculated reference ranges at 99%, with 8 at 99.9%. The percentage of athletes exceeding the thresholds in each group was similar, but IV returned the most individual occurrences. A similar frequency of abnormalities occurred across the 3 biomarkers, with abnormal [Hb] and OFF score values arising mainly during-, and %retic values mainly post- altitude. Removing samples collected during altitude from the model resulted in 10 athletes returning abnormal values at 99% specificity, 2 of whom had not triggered the model previously. In summary, the abnormalities observed in response to iron supplementation and hypoxia were not systematic and mostly in line with expected physiological adaptations. They do not represent a uniform weakness in the ABP. Nevertheless, altitude training and iron supplementation should be carefully considered by experts evaluating abnormal ABP profiles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-741
Number of pages11
JournalDrug Testing and Analysis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


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