More than 38,000 blood donations of all kinds are needed in the United States every day, according to the American Red Cross, and it is particularly looking for healthy volunteers like athletes. Blood plasma donation doesn’t take a lot of time and is relatively painless, with few side effects. While most casual exercisers should be fine, there are considerations that may affect your ability to be a plasma donor if you’re involved in training for athletic competitions.
Plasma is the clear liquid part of your blood that is left after the red cells, white cells and platelets have been filtered out. Plasma contains 92 percent water and eight percent proteins, salts, enzymes and antibodies. It’s the single largest component of human blood, making up approximately 55 percent of blood volume. Plasma is used to make therapies for treating life-threatening diseases and medical conditions such as shock, trauma and burns. There are more than 330 licensed and certified plasma collection centers located in the U.S.
In general, plasma donors are required to be at least 18 year of age and weigh at least 100 lb. You’ll have to pass two medical examinations, a medical history screening and be tested for viruses and other factors. Giving plasma takes about two hours, as blood is taken from your arm, the plasma filtered out, and the other blood components returned to your veins. Most collection centers require that you wait at least 48 hours before making a second donation, because that's the amount of time it takes for your body to replenish the plasma.
If you’re a healthy athlete, you should be able to recover fully after plasma donations within eight weeks, although you may lose some of your ability to train over the next few days due to low energy levels. Donating plasma can also reduce competitive performance for up to four weeks, depending upon whether you also donate red blood cells, because it takes that long for blood hemoglobin levels to return to normal. About 12 percent of donors develop lowered levels of antibodies, which may make you more prone to getting an infection.
In a 2001 article published in the journal “The Physician and Sports Medicine,” Marvin Adner, M.D., said that blood donation shouldn’t be a concern for active people as long as they aren’t iron-deficient. Donald M. Christie Jr., M.D., added that hydration is the key to a quicker recovery and to drink a lot more liquids than those offered at the donation center, continuing afterward throughout the day. Christie notes that a reduction in performance fitness levels would be slight in an endurance athlete, and donation should have no effect on strength or short-burst activities. However, in a separate article in “Omega Cycling,” Dr. P.A. Lambeti reported the results of a study showing maximal performance was decreased for at least one week in cyclists and recommended competitive cyclists not donate within seven to 10 days of a race.