In a recent study of sports medicine conducted by the University of Bayreuth in Germany, the effect of regular inhalation of carbon monoxide in healthy, well-trained people was the same as for altitude training. The study may pose a new challenge for the sports world: whether improving endurance through carbon monoxide is a legitimate training method.
Carbon monoxide is considered harmful to human body. It is very easy to bind to the body hemoglobin, making it lose oxygen-carrying capacity, resulting in so-called carbon monoxide poisoning. But now, researchers at Bayreuth University have been surprised to find that this trait of carbon monoxide may be used to simulate altitude training, which in turn increases the endurance of athletes. The findings have been published in the journal Sports and Medicine.
In order to improve endurance, competitive athletes often train in the absence of oxygen. Traditionally, this is done at a certain altitude. In special training laboratories, it is also possible to artificially reduce the amount of oxygen in the air that athletes breathe.
The University of Bayreuth Sports Medicine team worked with scientists at the University of Dresden and the University of Colorado at Boulder to study the effects of carbon monoxide in detail. In the trial, 11 subjects inhaled small amounts of carbon monoxide five times a day for three weeks. This reduces the transmission of oxygen in the blood by about 5%, equivalent to staying at an altitude of about 2,500 meters. After 3 weeks, the total amount of hemoglobin increased by 5%. This increase means a significant improvement in endurance performance, which is comparable to the impact of altitude training at the same time.
Professor Walter Schmidt, director of the Department of Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology at Bayreuth University, said: “Targeted small doses of carbon monoxide inhalation may be an alternative to high altitude training or other controlled hypoxia training. However, before the methodology could be put into practice, the relevant ethical issues must be clarified and more detailed medical studies must be carried out. “
Schmitt believes that carbon monoxide has a stronger performance-enhancing effect than erythropoietin (EPO), which is often used illegally by competitive athletes to stimulate red blood cell production. “Ultimately, the World Anti-Doping Agency must decide whether to increase athletic endurance through carbon monoxide is a legitimate training method or a new type of stimulant that must be banned.”