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Physiological characteristics of the best Eritrean runners-exceptional running economy.

Lucia A, et al. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2006.

Abstract

Despite their young age, limited training history, and lack of running tradition compared with other East African endurance athletes (e.g., Kenyans and Ethiopians), male endurance runners from Eritrea have recently attained important running successes. The purposes of our study were (i) to document the main physical and physiological characteristics of elite black Eritrean distance runners (n = 7; age: 22 +/- 3 years) and (ii) to compare them with those of their elite white Spanish counterparts. For this second purpose we selected a control group of elite Spanish runners (n = 9; 24 +/- 2 years), owing to the traditionally high success of Spanish athletes in long-distance running compared with other white runners, especially in cross-country competitions. The subjects' main anthropometric characteristics were determined, together with their maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and VO2 (mL.kg(-1).min(-1)), blood lactate, and ammonia concentrations while running at 17, 19, or 21 km.h(-1). The body mass index (18.9 +/- 1.5 kg.m(-2)) and maximal calf circumference (30.9 +/- 1.5 cm) was lower in Eritreans than in Spaniards (20.5 +/- 1.7 kg.m(-2) and 33.9 +/- 2.0 cm, respectively) (p < 0.05 and p < 0.01, respectively) and their lower leg (shank) length was longer (44.1 +/- 3.0 cm vs. 40.6 +/- 2.7 cm, respectively) (p < 0.05). VO2 max did not differ significantly between Eritreans and Spaniards (73.8 +/- 5.6 mL.kg(-1).min(-1) vs. 77.8 +/- 5.7 mL.kg(-1).min(-1), respectively), whereas the VO2 cost of running was lower (p < 0.01) in the former (e.g., 65.9 +/- 6.8 mL.kg(-1).min(-1) vs. 74.8 +/- 5.0 mL.kg(-1).min(-1) when running at 21 km.h(-1)). Our data suggest that the excellent running economy of Eritreans is associated, at least partly, with anthropometric variables. Comparison of their submaximal running cost with other published data suggests that superior running economy, rather than enhanced aerobic capacity, may be the common denominator in the success of black endurance runners of East African origin.

PMID

17111007 [Indexed for MEDLINE]

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