EPO (Doping) and Running

I am a little confused about how doping works and perhaps I have some misconceptions.

What is the advantage of using erythropoietin to increase red blood cells for a runner? It my understanding that elite runners have lower red blood cell counts which allows the blood to have greater viscosity. Wouldn’t the use of EPO make the blood less viscous and defeat the benefits of have greater viscosity? I could see how having increased red blood cells could help with recovery during training, but I am not clear how much of an effect it will have for a runner’s aerobic capacity to dope before an event when the loss of viscosity is factored in.

First off, higher RBC counts lead to higher viscosity. That is, it’s “soupier” and less liquid because it has more solid red blood cells than before. EPO raises the number of red blood cells and the bloods viscosity. Sure, it might “flow” just a little bit worse because it’s more viscous, but this will be far outweighed by the advantages of having more red-blood cells, which of course carry the hemoglobin which is what is bound to the oxygen molecules.

More RBC’s->more hemoglobin->more O2 binding ability->more aerobic capacity->more speed.

I knew I was going to get the visosity thing backwards.

A question I have is if higher numbers of red blood cells increases the ability to run why does the red cell count of elite runners drop during training? Does the lower viscosity help with heart pumping functions while the doping gives a short term aerobic benefit while making the heart work harder (perhaps dangerously harder)?

It shoudn’t. A raised hematocrit (more RBC’s) should be an adaptation of training. In this manner, EPO should mimic a lot of training.

Do you have a cite for this RBC count of runners dropping during training? I don’t think that it does.

It is discussed in Bernd Heinrich’s Why We Run. I don’t a have copy by me so I can’t give the exact quote or page.