I get as queasy as the next firm-testicled guy when some new age, patchouli-wearing earth mother starts talking about the calming effect of lavender or some other such oil, but some of these "aromatherapies" might actually have some merit, especially when it comes to increasing athletic performance.
For instance, there are a number of studies that have looked at the effects of mint (peppermint especially) on athletes and the results have been fairly remarkable, so much so that I've begun popping peppermint before leg workouts and mixing my own peppermint elixirs to give to some runners I know.
What the Studies Say
There have been lots of studies on the effects of inhaled peppermint, and while the plant has proven to have pain-killing and mood-enhancing effects, the effects on athletic performance have been somewhat equivocal.
That's probably why researchers at the University of Mohaghegh Ardabili decided to take a different tack. Instead of having test subjects snort the stuff, they had them drink it.
They mixed 0.05 ml of peppermint oil in 500 ml bottles of water and had 12 healthy male students drink a bottle a day for 10 days. The students were tested for various indicators of cardiovascular performance before and after drinking the peppermint mixture. It had the following effects:
- Increased exercise performance
- Decreased blood pressure
- Significantly decreased resting and exercise heart rate
- Increased inspiratory muscle strength
All of that probably sounds sure-sure-fine, but check out the magnitude of the effects: After drinking peppermint water, time to exhaustion on a treadmill increased by about 25%, and work performance (amount of work done and amount of power exerted) increased by about 50%! Put another way, they ran a lot harder for a lot longer.
What's Going On?
Clearly, anything that makes you breathe better is going to increase work potential, and both peppermint and spearmint have long been used as bronchodilators. However, the researchers from the University of Mohaghegh Ardabili gave us additional insights. They found that 10 days of drinking their peppermint solution led to increases in carbohydrate metabolism.
They also pointed to other peppermint studies that showed the plant decreases blood lactate levels (thereby delaying fatigue) and stimulates the central nervous system and possibly the adrenal cortex. Regardless, they felt that additional studies were needed to unravel the mechanism underlying the increases in exercise performance.
How to Use This Info
All you need to do to duplicate what they did in the study is to squirt a single drop of peppermint oil from an eyedropper into a bottle of drinking water. You can drink it for 10 days like they did in the study, or just see how it works after a single usage.
Peppermint oils are readily and cheaply available from a host of stores and internet sites (although it's unclear what potency the researchers used and what potencies are available in store-bought varieties).
You can also buy peppermint lozenges. I've been experimenting with Meltzer's brand, available through Amazon. I mixed two or three lozenges into bottles of drinking water and let them dissolve before giving them to a couple of runners.
Although neither of my "test subjects" were willing to drink a bottle a day for 10 days before running again, they're fired up about it after only a few day's use, claiming the water helps them breathe easier and maintain a more constant pace.
You could also try plopping a couple of lozenges into your bottle of Surge® Workout Fuel or Plazma™, which is what I've been personally experimenting with. While I already get a significant endurance boost from those products, the peppermint seems to give me additional work capacity.
Alternately, you could simply chomp on a couple of the lozenges immediately before doing a squat or deadlift workout or a run to see how it works. Keep in mind, though, that any results seen from this lozenge protocol might just be from the bronchodilator effect, and anything beyond that might be placebo effect, especially since the test subjects in the studies drank the oil/water mixture for 10 days.
- Abbas Meamarbashi and Ali Rajabi, "The effects of peppermint on exercise performance." J Int Soc Sports Nutr., 2013; 10: 15.