Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific workout. For those of you that give blood, you’re literally giving the gift of life. If you’re into fitness however, it might significantly effect your impact on performance. This is what donating blood does to your fitness levels after giving life to someone else.
Is It Okay To Work Out After Donating Blood?
Your blood is your lifeline. If you have too little of any one of the components that make up blood it can severely effect your lifestyle and obviously if you lose too much of it, you’ll die. When donating blood, you’re offering up your life to someone else. The amount of blood that is given is one unit – approximately 400-500ml, roughly one pint – about the size of an awesome tasting beer. Don’t worry, after that pint is gone, you’ve got about nine more to keep your tank full. While it can be okay to work out after donating blood, it’s probably best not to give it your best. Research shows that performance is drastically effected by donating blood. Let’s dive in deeper.
How Donating Blood Effects Performance
To understand how blood effects activity levels, we have to dive into a quick lesson on the make up of blood.
Plasma is the water based product of blood that contains all other blood products: red and white blood cells, platelets, and proteins. Your plasma is frequently used for burn patients, shock patients, and people with bleeding disorders. Plasma contains numerous clotting factors (3).
Plasma is frozen and then stored, but when it starts to thaw, a cream colored blood product forms at the bottom of the bag of blood known as cyroprecipitate. This product specifically contains only clotting factors. This is used only for those with severe clotting disorders (2,3).
Platelets are a portion of blood devoted specifically to clotting. Whenever there is a cut in the skin causing bleeding, platelets rush to the site of blood loss. After the platelets are there they release enzymes that assist with stopping the bleeding. When blood is donated, platelets are specifically extracted and used for burn victims and trauma victims as well as people with clotting disorders and those with cancer.(3).
Red Blood Cells
For most of us who are fortunate to not be a cancer patient, a major trauma, have a bleeding disorder, or a burn victim, this is the most important component of blood. Red blood cells carry an iron made protein that is responsible for binding and carrying oxygen throughout our entire body. This is why iron deficiencies cause people to feel weak, fatigue, or even look pale – they’re not getting enough oxygen. An absence of this protein called hemoglobin, can drastically effect your oxygen carrying capability as well as your performance levels.
What Happens To Your Blood After It’s Gone
It’s pretty straight forward – you donate some fuel, you’re going to be a little low on fuel. What generally happens is that your blood volume is diminished by about a pint. Some people get dizzy after blood donation (myself included) because they just don’t have the same amount of blood volume circulating through their blood vessels. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you drink plenty of fluid before and after blood donation.
According to the American Heart Association your plasma levels recover within about twenty four hours (4). However, the most important factor, your red blood cells, take about four to six weeks to fully recover (4). Which is why there’s a requirement that you wait eight weeks between blood donations. For the serious athlete looking to make the most of their training, you’re going to be doing so at reduced capacity for about three to six weeks. This is because the body is lacking the oxygen carrying components in the blood. Because red blood cells take longer to recover, some people prone to anemia or those who are already anemic, might have lower red blood cell counts. Because of lower iron levels in your blood you’ll also be at a reduced capacity for carrying oxygen through your body. Less oxygen translates to a reduced training capacity.
Food for thought – your body is generally pretty good at adapting to physiologic conditions. If you’re a person who frequently exercises, and an otherwise healthy individual, there’s no reason to suspect that your body won’t kick red blood cell production into overdrive and help you achieve full recovery at the shorter end of the suggested recovery period. One study from the Journal Of Strength Conditioning and Research suggested that the aerobic capability of blood will return to normal within three weeks in people who have average fitness levels (5).
For The People Serious About Their Fitness and Donating Blood
It might be a good idea to consider the timing of of when to donate blood. Off seasons might be the best time when training regimens won’t be as impacted. But never do it several weeks in advance of a big race or event. Iron is also a huge factor in the ability of the body to bind oxygen to your blood cells. You definitely want to think about consuming foods to help you get your recommended daily allowance of iron. In the meantime, keep on donating, and if you haven’t ever donating blood, consider it. You literally help save lives.
To find a blood donation center in your area you can visit the American Red Cross.
1. Walther, J. “Donating Blood and Exercise: What Athletes Should Know.” National Academy Of Sports Medicine. 6 February 2016. Web. 1 March 2016.
2. Kelley, D. “Update On Plasma and Crycoprecipitate Transfusion.” The Institute For Transfusion Medicine. 2004. Web. 1 March 2016.
3. N.a. “Blood Products.” American Red Cross. 2016. Web. 1 March 2016.
4. N.a. “Donation FAQs.” American Red Cross. 2016. Web. 1 March 2016.
5. Baras, S., Et. al. “Time Course For Recovery Of Peak Aerobic Power After Blood Donation.” The Journal Of Strength Conditioning and Research. November 2011. Web. 1 March 2016.