Greater Performance Impairment of Black Runners than White Runners when Running in Hypoxia

19 Mar 2014 - 16:30

Numerous studies attempt to explain this phenomenon and have shown, for example, that Black athletes have a higher capacity to resist fatigue under unfavourable hot and humid environmental conditions. In this study, we wanted to know if changing another environmental condition such as a lower concentration of oxygen in the air (i.e hypoxia) would have the same outcome?


Many of the best Black African runners, especially those from Kenya and Ethiopia, come from high altitude areas. Research on runners from high altitude areas show that physiological responses to hypoxia are influenced by altitude adaptations. In view of this, we studied the response to hypoxia of performance-matched Black and White runners originating from the same area in South Africa.


This is what we found:


  • There were no physiological or performance differences between the Black and the White runners when running in normal conditions.


  • When running in hypoxia, the White runners achieved a longer time to exhaustion than the Black runners 


  • When running in hypoxia, the Black runners presented higher values of arterial saturation (amount of oxygen in the blood) and lower values of blood lactate concentrations (residual product of metabolism)


These results suggest that even though White runners are more sensitive to the effects of hypoxia (indicated by the larger disturbances in their arterial saturation and blood lactate concentrations), they are more tolerant to its effects.


While the specific mechanisms for this apparent performance advantage during hypoxia are still unclear, this study demonstrates for the first time that when performance-matched, Black runners displayed impaired performance and altered sensitivity to hypoxic conditions compared to White runners.


This summary was authored by Dr Jordan Santos-Concejero (Postdoctoral Research Fellow from the Faculty of Health Sciences)

Follow Jordan @JordanSudafrica

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