Inhaling peppermint oil isn't going to do anything, but oral consumption is another matter! Either follow the same protocol as the test, or one peppermint oil capsule a day for 10 days to load before your event for potentially a 10% gain in VO2.
Tight Airways, Less O2, Open Airways, More O2
Increasing oxygen uptake is one of the holy grails of endurance sport. Oxygen is used by the body during aerobic respiration to produce ATP, the body’s energy molecule. Simply, more the more oxygen you can take in, the more power you can produce aerobically, reducing reliance on painful anaerobic respiration. Asthma is a condition that causes the constriction of the airways, making it harder to breathe. it can be caused by allergies, pollutants, and intense exercise. Cyclists are more likely to have been diagnosed with Asthma than the average member of the population. At the 2004 Olympics, 40% of the British Cycling squad were listed as asthmatic. An explanation for this can be the high stress places on the lungs by cycling. In the case of road cyclists, the proximity to vehicle exhausts and road pollutants is also a likely trigger. If you are cynically minded, a diagnosis of asthma would also allow you a Therapeutic Use Exemption to use asthma medications. These medications work to help relax and expand the airways and thus greater oxygen uptake and increase performance.
Everyone loves going faster, but we want to do in in a safe and legal way. So what if there was something that we could all use with no fuss and could yield some significant advantages? Enter peppermint oil.
Why Peppermint Oil?
Peppermint inhalers have been used by athletes and as a home remedy for stuffy noses for years, but all testing on inhaled peppermint oil have shown no significant improvements on power output. Previous studies have shown that various kinds of mint were effective in reducing muscle pain, muscle relaxation and reduce fatigue. However, previous studies showed inhaling peppermint aroma has no effect on the lung function tests and physical performance during intensive exercise. In a research on the effect of peppermint aroma during 15-minute low intensity treadmill exercise among male and female college students, no significant difference was seen in the resting or exercise heart rate, oxygen consumption, ventilation, and perceived effort. All of this makes sense as inhaled peppermint oil products are designed to be nasal decongestants. But what about oral consumption?
Researchers from Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences, University of Mohaghegh Ardabili, Iran, conducted an experiment on 12 male athletes. Each athlete consumed one 500 ml bottle of water, containing 0.05 ml peppermint essential oil for ten days. Researchers logged the participants blood pressure, heart rate, and spirometry parameters including forced vital capacity (FVC), peak expiratory flow rate (PEF), and peak inspiratory flow (PIF) one day before and one day after the supplementation period. Participants also underwent a treadmill-based exercise test with metabolic gas analysis and ventilation measurement.
Physiological parameters obtained by gas analyser in Pre-test and Post-test
Changes in the exercise performance parameters
Spirometry parameters in the Pre-test and Post-test
Cardiopulmonary parameters obtained from the Pre-test and Post-test
The results of the experiment support the effectiveness of peppermint essential oil on the exercise performance, gas analysis, spirometry parameters, blood pressure, and respiratory rate in the young male students. Relaxation of bronchial smooth muscles, increase in the ventilation and brain oxygen concentration and decrease in the blood lactate level are the most plausible explanations. The study supports the theory that delaying fatigue may be related to physiological changes by decreasing blood lactate levels. Furthermore, significant increase in the carbohydrate metabolism after ten days of supplementation (Table 1) implies that peppermint can improve the muscular energy metabolism.
Whilst this study does to show some very promising performance enhancements, there are a few caveats to this that we would add to the work of the researchers: 1) There is no control group included in this study. This raises some potential questions about the results. How much of the performance improvement in the treadmill could be a result of knowing where their previous limit was? Results in the physiological readings are more reliable but the absence of a control group still a limiting factor. 2) The sample size of their test group is quite small. The degree in confidence in the results is high, but we would like to see more participants included in the study to increase this. 3) The quality of test subjects. This test was conducted on healthy individuals but the initial treadmill results shows them to be below the level of serious amateur athletes. An improvement in performance for higher caliber athletes is still probable, but the scale of this is likely less.
We believe that it's worth supplementing with peppermint oil following the same protocol as the study and experimenting to see if you notice a benefit. Peppermint oil is cheap, readily available and has very few, if any side effects for most people. The potential performance gains should make this a very enticing supplement. Please always take care to check to see if you are allergic to peppermint oil. It is a rare allergy, but it does exist. Leave a comment on this post to let us know how you get on!