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Blood Testing for Better Performance - Learning from Hakone and Pro Baseball

by Dr. Takahisa Hiraishi, Tokyo Midtown Clinic
translated by Mika Tokairin and edited by Brett Larner

this article appeared in the Jan. 8 edition of the Nikkei newspaper

Every year my new year starts with the Hakone Ekiden. Recently the performances at Hakone have improved at a surprising rate, in particular the uphill Fifth Stage, which despite going up the side of a mountain has seen new records virtually every year lately. Five years ago at Juntendo University I tested the blood of Masato Imai, known as "The God of the Mountain." In cooperation with the university medical department Juntendo checks its runners' blood almost every day beginning a week before Hakone. I myself took blood every month throughout the year and reported the runners' conditions to the team. Based on that data the coach made plans for training and team strategy. This experience gained as a sports doctor also applies in my work with general patients.

Among the data derived from a blood checkup, the G.O.T. and G.P.T., readings show not only the functioning of the liver but also the condition of the body's musculature. C.P.K. shows the degree of muscle fatigue, and L.D.H. shows the overall fatigue level of the entire body. If those two readings are high you can predict some inflammation of the muscle or even the likelihood of a strain or pull. In addition, if the number of white blood cells exceeds 10000 per microliter there is a high possibility of an impending muscle pull within the next week, indicating the need for a reduction in training. Those numerical values are very important for both amateur golfers and amateur marathon runners.

In ekidens the most important factor is the level of blood-borne serum iron and ferritin. They create the basic endurance capacity and help with coping with any kind of weather conditions. In a very hot summer training camp when runners are doing high mileage they crush the red blood cells flowing through their feet, leading to sports anemia. Including October's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifying race, the most important season of the year begins in the autumn. Naturally, it's important in this season to take in iron from liver, red meat and fish, but in order to improve the absorption factor it's also essential to take a vitamin B complex and vitamin C along with such foods.

An important factor in starting member selection for a key race such as Hakone is M.C.V., the average red blood cell volume. This is indicative of the athlete's stress level. In high-risk sports such as martial arts athletes usually show a higher count on this reading. Professional baseball player Kazuhiro Kiyohara used to show higher counts before the Japan Series, likely due to nervousness. On the other hand, pitchers Masumi Kuwata and Daisuke Matsuzaka maintained ideal numerical values and had brilliant concentration abilities in important games. In his daily bloodwork the M.C.V. of Hakone's God of the Mountain also improved day by day at the end of the year leading into the race. That showed how good he is at dealing with stress and being able to concentrate under pressure.

Calcium is important for agility because it encourages synaptic communication between nerve cells and muscles and helps with the precision of the intended movement. Eat small fish and supplements daily and take vitamin C along with it. I recommend taking iron, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, vitamin E and calcium every day, and you will be ready to face whatever your personal mountain is.

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