Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Sauna has same effect as EPO

Endurance athletes can shave 1.9 percent off their 5K time by spending half an hour in the sauna after every running training session for a period of three weeks. Sports scientists at the University of Otago in New Zealand discovered this.

Sauna & endurance
The researchers already knew that a single visit to the sauna thins the blood. This is because the body increases the amount of plasma in the blood in response to the heat.

That means you have more, but thinner blood circulating. If instead of just one visit you go regularly to the sauna then the amount of blood plasma remains high, but your body also starts to make more red blood cells. The researchers were interested to know whether this would lead to improved performance.

Sauna has same effect as EPO
To find out, the New Zealanders did an experiment with six well-trained male runners, who trained six to seven times a week. In the experiment the athletes sat in a sauna at 85 degrees for half an hour after every running training session for a period of three weeks. The subjects were allowed to drink as much as they wanted.

After the three weeks the researchers got the test subjects to run until they could go no further on a treadmill. The speed was set on the basis of the runners' fastest time during a 5K run.

As you can see in the table below, the athletes were able to keep that speed up for thirty percent longer after the three-week sauna treatment.

Sauna has same effect as EPO

According to the researchers, the effect measured is the equivalent of a 1.9 percent reduction in time for five kilometres.

Sauna has same effect as EPO

When they analysed the athletes' blood the New Zealanders found that the amount of plasma and the amount of red blood cells had increased. What caused the performance-enhancing effect the researchers are not quite sure, but they suspect that "the end result should be an increase in maximum oxygen consumption".

J Sci Med Sport. 2007 Aug;10(4):259-62.