Among the ways running changes lives is through philanthropic pursuits, and there is perhaps no more valuable—or needed—way to help others than donating blood. Fifty-two per cent of Canadians say they or a family member have needed blood or blood products, according to Canadian Blood Services, the non-profit charity responsible for managing the national supply of blood products in all provinces and territories except Quebec.
Runners who meet the Canadian Blood Services’ criteria for being a donor, can make the life-saving gift of blood donation a regular part of their lives. For those in the process of getting ready for a big race, however, a little planning will ensure that making a blood donation and meeting your training goals can both be accomplished in the safest possible way.
preparing to donate
The standard blood donation collected through Canadian Blood Services is around 450 milliliters. That’s a small portion of the total volume of blood in the average human body—around five liters—but it does demand that you take good care of yourself before and after each donation, which will aid your return to full strength following a donation. Canadian Blood Services recommends staying hydrated, eating a healthy meal and getting plenty of rest the night before the donation. Donors are also advised to drink 500 ml of water and eat a salty snack right before making the donation.
The actual donation generally takes only 15 minutes, and the whole process—including another 15 minutes of immediate post-donation resting and snacking—takes about an hour. According to Canadian Blood Services, it takes only hours to replenish the plasma portion of a donation, and days to replenish the platelet portion, while red blood cells can take months to replenish.
Canadian Blood Services recommends avoiding strenuous exercise (ie, running) for six to eight hours following a donation, and to continue drinking extra fluids 24 hours after the donation. The World Health Organization’s guidelines are more conservative, recommending avoiding strenuous physical activities or sports for 48 hours following a donation.
Although concerns over physical performance come secondary to those of safety, how a blood donation might affect the quality of training is understandably of interest to runners. According to this 2016 study, a standard blood donation of 400-500 ml leads to “potentially physiologically important” reductions in VO2max (7 percent) and maximal exercise capacity (10 percent) in the first two days after a donation.
A scheduling solution that would satisfy all of the above would be to plan the week’s long run for early on the day before making the donation, allowing plenty of time to rehydrate and rest later in the day. Staying off your feet during the hours before the donation can ensure your body is primed for the recovery to follow. Setting aside the following 24-48 hours as the remaining days will give you a chance to recover from the physiological impact of the donation, making your return to running that much stronger.
Whether you adjust your training schedule to fit donation times, or schedule a donation to fit around your training schedule, there’s room for both, with a little planning. To schedule a donation or to find out more about the donation process, visit blood.ca.