Triathlete's, Donate Blood. One Day the Need Might Be Yours!

The Athlete's Guide to Donating Blood

I wrote this for Ironman a couple years ago. With racing season still a ways away for those of us in the northern part of the country, we can still donate a unit and be back to full strength by Spring.  Even if you've never done this, when you walk out the door of the Red Cross or local blood bank after your donation, you have this same sense of pride, self-worth, that you do after a race. President's day is tomorrow and many have the day off. Why not put this at the top of your to do list. You'll be glad you did.
Athletes guide to donating blood
Nurse removing the transfusion

As professional triathlete Jordan Rapp knows, blood on the shelf saves lives. Here's a breakdown of the whys and hows.

Jordan Rapp is a professional triathlete and one of the best long-course athletes in the sport. For those of you who don't know, he had a horrific bike accident when he was involved in a hit-and-run crash in 2010.  He had multiple fractures, abrasions, lacerations and significant blood loss. He was injured so badly that he was initially placed in the intensive care unit and had significant blood loss requiring transfusion. "Two pints of A+," according to a recent email from Rapp.

"Blood on the shelf saves lives," says Beth Hartwell, former Blood Bank Director at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Institute. "Each donation can help save three lives." Dr. Hartwell looks upon those who give blood as her "heroes. Their blood is going to an anonymous person in need. How cool is that?"

An athlete's concerns
With our healthy pedigree, triathletes are the perfect candidates for donating blood. It doesn't matter if it's the Red Cross or your local blood service—giving is the goal. Did you know that less than 10 percent of the population gives blood annually, for the benefit of 100 percent of us?

As an athlete, your first concern is how long it takes to return to pre-donation blood levels. That depends on specifically what you donate. For example, scientific studies have shown that if you donate plasma, the liquid part of the blood, or platelets, the cells that help blood clot, but not the oxygen carrying red blood cells, you’ll be back to normal in 48 hours. Even if you give whole blood (including the red blood cells), within a week or two you shouldn't see a difference in your training from pre-donation, although a 100 percent correction in your hemoglobin level will take about five to seven weeks.

There are many reasons not to give blood, such as a needle stick, a few days of sub-maximal training, rumors from the uninformed, to name a few. But there's never a shortage of reasons to give. Blood is used for patients getting dialysis, heart surgery, children with cancer, trauma victims, etc. Think about how frequently you read about one of our own colliding with a vehicle, or another cyclist. And blood is always available when we need it.
Your first time: What to expect 
So what happens when you, an athlete, go to donate for the very first time? You'll register and answer a few confidential questions to make sure the donation is right for them and right for you. They'll take your pulse, temperature and blood pressure. If this were a triathlon, consider that the swim. T1 is getting your arm really clean and prepping it for the blood draw. The bike, actually having the collection bag fill, takes only a few minutes—faster than some of us complete a an IRONMAN transition! In T2 they wrap your arm with a colorful "Why yes I did just give blood, thanks for asking," band. Then you run to the snack area where you can have unlimited Oreos, Fig Newtons, and juice, and in 10 minutes you're back on the sidewalk ready for action—a new PR for sure.

Imagine how good you'll feel doing something for others. And it's only April—many of us aren't even in racing season yet, making it an ideal time to give. Dr. Hartwell says that the infrequent donor will be ready to race at 100 percent in two months, the regular donor in three. And for those of you who are afraid of needles, the small prick of the skin is outweighed by the accomplishment you’ll feel at the end. Did I mention the Oreos?
So get out the phone book and find the nearest place to give. You'll be glad you did. Just ask Jordan Rapp.
John Post is a six-time IRONMAN World Championship finisher and the medical advisor for TrainingBible Coaching

Athlete comments from the website that you may find encouraging.
Karen Lethlean ·
After giving blood on a Monday, I attended my usual intense swimming training on a Tuesday afternoon, and fell very ill. When I next talked to the Red Cross they were adamant that I should have been told that any form of physical training within 3 days of donating blood is not advisable. Now, forewarned I make sure that either I am on a rest phase, or able to take a few days break before committing to donating blood. But aside from taking that kind of precaution donating can be a mini health check you find out how are your iron levels going.
LikeReply2Apr 1, 2014 7:37pm
Katerina Richardson
I did bike/run bricks same day no problem. Yes, slower but it's ok. Weight lifting is a no-no, though.
LikeReplyOct 3, 2016 9:00am
Wayne Jordan ·
Option is to donate plasma rather than whole blood. I am AB+ so they seem to prefer the plasma too. Recover a whole lot quicker too
LikeReplyApr 2, 2014 8:22pm
Denise Hiller ·
Karen, NO strenuous exercise a full 24hrs after donating blood. Remember to hydrate well 3 days prior to your donation
LikeReplyApr 3, 2014 12:39pm
Donald Oswalt ·
Thank you for sharing this. I am in training for the Boston Marathon and triathlon season and opted out of giving blood last week because I did not want it to effect my race performance. Now I know that about the recovery time but, I will wait until after Boston and give.
LikeReplyApr 6, 2014 9:26am
Katerina Richardson
I have been a regular blood donor for several years. Your body adjusts. Just take care of it.

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