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I recently read that Lance Armstrong used EPO to win cycling championships. I wish to improve my ability to run long distances quickly. Will taking EPO be good for this, and are there any negative side-effects?

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Erythropoietin (EPO) is a naturally occurring substance in the body that aids in red blood cell (RBC) production. It was originally developed as an external drug in the early 1900's to aid people with poor RBC production or other disease pathologies such as anemia.

By itself, EPO will do nothing to enhance your running ability. What it does do, is enable you to do more work by making available more oxygen to working muscles. This enables you to work harder, which in turn should make you faster. It is an enabler, not an instant result.

However, there are quite a lot of drawbacks to EPO supplementation in an otherwise normal person. One of the biggest is that when you artificially increase the RBC count in blood, it does not also increase the plasma/sera (liquid portions of the blood), so your blood becomes thicker. This makes it harder for the heart to pump the blood through the body, and when coupled with a lowered resting heart rate (A very common side effect of being fit), you highly increase your chance of stroke and death, especially when sleeping. There have been over 20 deaths in professional cycling in recent years linked to EPO use.

Obviously, people make their own choices, but if you are considering supplementing with EPO I would highly encourage you to research it thoroughly and understand the dangers and the risks that you take with your life by doing so.

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  • I'll move my comment to this answer.. I wonder if the performance increase you get by using EPO makes the hard work easier, so that you don't actually adapt in the way you would by doing that work without the EPO?
    – user4644
    Jan 18 '13 at 17:52
  • I don't think that aspect of it has ever really been addressed, and it would be an incredibly difficult study to design. That's one of the big debates in anti doping as well, if you dope for X years and are off for Y years, how much extra benefit because of the work you DID put in during doping still lingers?
    – JohnP
    Jan 18 '13 at 18:05
  • @Kate There's no such thing as making the work easier I think. When you go and exercise it will always be hard if you are going to get results. If you took something that could make it easier and you didn't work as hard to get results then you wouldn't get results anyway. Taking EPO will work for those who are able to always push themselves to the limit, but will not be effective for people who want to take it easier and expect results
    – user16558
    Aug 5 '15 at 10:35
  • That is not debated. Riders also EPO to train harder. Lance entered limited races so he could dope as part of training.
    – paparazzo
    Aug 6 '15 at 4:31
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According to my research at Stanford, I found that EPO does in fact increase running ability because it catalyzes RBC production, thus increasing the amount of oxygen to vital muscles, in short increasing one's running performance.

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    Can you share your research?
    – John
    Mar 6 '17 at 8:47
  • I would also be interested in seeing the research. Is it along the lines of you took a 4:30 miler and gave them EPO and they poof became a 4:15 miler? That would definitely be something new. Or are you inferring that because it increases RBC production that it automatically makes you faster? Congrats on getting signed to Stanford, btw,
    – JohnP
    Mar 7 '17 at 20:54

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