The Power of Oxygen

If you are ever in a sporting goods store.  On the shelves, especially those in some high altitude and ski location, you will probably see small pocket-sized metal canisters that look like mineral spray.  But instead of a nice cold mist, these actually contain around 95 percent pure oxygen — this is roughly four times the concentration found in our normal air.  They can also come in flavours like mint and peach.

Companies such as Oxygen Plus state when the oxygen levels in your blood drop, so does physical and also mental performance. But by utilising for natural boost, the portable oxygen manufacturers claim that you can in-a-way saturate your blood with oxygen and thus return your blood oxygen levels to an optimal mixture.

When you breathe, oxygen flow into the lungs.  This is carried by hemoglobin in your blood to your cells and muscles. “The idea is that if you can add more oxygen, then your body will have more oxygen to create energy and thus requires less effort to actually be made during training,” states Doctor Kenton Fibel, who is a Physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery and also Team Physician for the New York Rangers. “The other thought is when you have finished exercise, you are depleted of energy. This is potentially a faster way to restore that energy.”


Can oxygen really improve your performance?

Doctor Mark Kovacs works with top athletes and elite tennis professionals and also formerly managed the Sport Science, Strength & Conditioning departments in the United States Tennis Association.  He says that the answer is no. “The problem is not really the quantity of oxygen we bring in. It’s how much we actually use it. Bringing in additional oxygen isn’t adding to our ability to use it”. He says “There isn’t really a physical reason to do it”

Doctor John Smith from Texas University stated “If somebody goes into a rested state, their oxygen level will be about 99 percent saturated. Even the person who’s performing some form of exercise, their blood oxygen level is not going to go down that much”.

The scientific studies actually show some very conflicting results.  Many studies have shown that supplementing with oxygen can improve recovery time during interval training, while many others have shown no significant improvement in those who used got a boost of oxygen. Other studies have shown that there is no effect of supplemental oxygen on recovery.

Doctor Smith from Texas University has recently studied a variety of the effects of additional oxygen on exercise and actually found no physiological changes.  He also found no change in the rating of perceived exertion between those persons who supplemented with additional oxygen, and people who didn’t. On average, participants using the extra oxygen took 39 seconds longer to become exhausted, but this may be a placebo effect as test subjects knew that they were taking oxygen.

Benefits of extra oxygen might be visible in the intervals between high-intensity exercise, “By the time people doing exercise get to a third or second to last attempt and are exhaustively fatigued, its possible that their oxygen levels are a bit lower. At this point, giving them additional oxygen may increase their levels a little,” said Doctor Smith.

In Summary

Some of the benefits that people are said to experience with supplemental oxygen could be given by the placebo effect rather than an actual physiological change. “If that is the case, then go for it. As long as it’s not hurting anyone in any form,” said Doctor Smith.  Is it worth the money? “In my opinion, as long as you have no problems in breathing, you’ll be able to increase oxygen levels in your hemoglobin quite easily without the need for it.”

By far the best way to improve performance is to focus on training, recovery and nutrition. Doctor Fibel says “The vast majority of the benefits and ability to compete at higher levels will come from your daily training routine and any oxygen supplements shouldn’t be a substitute for trainind and a healthy diet”.

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