Hemoglobin Mass and Aerobic Performance at Moderate Altitude in Elite Athletes

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016;903:357-74. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4899-7678-9_24.


Fore more than a decade, the live high-train low (LHTL) approach, developed by Levine and Stray-Gundersen, has been widely used by elite endurance athletes. Originally, it was pointed out, that by living at moderate altitude, athletes should benefit from an increased red cell volume (RCV) and hemoglobin mass (Hbmass), while the training at low altitudes should prevent the disadvantage of reduced training intensity at moderate altitude. VO2max is reduced linearly by about 6-8 % per 1000 m increasing altitude in elite athletes from sea level to 3000 m, with corresponding higher relative training intensities for the same absolute work load. With 2 weeks of acclimatization, this initial deficit can be reduced by about one half. It has been debated during the last years whether sea-level training or exposure to moderate altitude increases RCV and Hbmass in elite endurance athletes. Studies which directly measured Hbmass with the optimized CO-rebreathing technique demonstrated that Hbmass in endurance athletes is not influenced by sea-level training. We documented that Hbmass is not increased after 3 years of training in national team cross-country skiers. When athletes are exposed to moderate altitude, new studies support the argument that it is possible to increase Hbmass temporarily by 5-6 %, provided that athletes spend >400 h at altitudes above 2300-2500 m. However, this effect size is smaller than the reported 10-14 % higher Hbmass values of endurance athletes living permanently at 2600 m. It remains to be investigated whether endurance athletes reach these values with a series of LHTL camps.

Keywords: Altitude training; Hypoxia; Red cell volume; VO2max.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Altitude*
  • Athletes*
  • Exercise*
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Weight
  • Oxygen Consumption


  • Hemoglobins