Supplemental Oxygen: Does it Work?

Supplemental Oxygen: Does it Work?

No longer just the domain of the elderly and infirm, canned or "supplemental" oxygen has found a place among athletes. Many believe it  will help them increase their performance. Here we look at what oxygen does for your body and whether extra oxygen can really help you meet your fitness goals.

How Oxygen Affects Performance

Oxygen is the electricity of your body. Just as a television is just a box without electricity, you would be nothing but meat without oxygen. Oxygen travels into your lungs and is released into your blood through millions of tiny bubbles. In athletic performance, that oxygen controls many things, including the muscles. Unless your body is consuming enough oxygen to match the demands you are putting on it, it will short circuit. Lack of oxygen causes loss of muscle control, poor stamina and an inability to concentrate. At its very worse it can cause complete and literal collapse. Many athletes try to extend their stamina and performance by using oxygen supplementation.

Oxygen Surplus = Victory? 

A trend in national and international marathons gave power to the idea that oxygen is the key to athletic success. That trend was Kenya. Kenyan nationals have become next to unbeatable in marathon running. One reason credited for this performance was oxygen surplus. Kenyans are born and train in an atmosphere with lower oxygen. When they compete in marathons that are conducted at lower altitudes, they experience a natural oxygen surplus. Some believe this allows them to have higher stamina and a faster, stronger performance than people who train in more oxygen-rich atmospheres. This is thought to account for part of the Kenya domination of competitive long-distance running. And it credits the idea that supplemental oxygen increases performance.

But Will it Work for You?

The question remains if artificial sources of oxygen can help you achieve Kenyan stamina. Studies have shown that athletes who breathe in pure oxygen before their performance do a little better. They lift their weights quicker and cover their short distances faster. However, few studies have been done, and of those that have been conducted, participants knew that they were breathing pure oxygen. Many question whether this had an impact on the the psychology of the athlete more than the body. At any rate, the effect of breathing pure oxygen is short lived. Your body will process the oxygen as it always has--hyper-efficiently if you are a Kenyan athlete and much more moderately if you are not. The body uses and disposes of the oxygen it is given very quickly, but many believe it can give a short performance boost.

If you are looking for a short-term boost in competitive sports, oxygen might be useful to you, if your institution allows it. The effect is temporary, however. It will not likely increase your long-term performance or increase your chances of a healthier body.