The Surprising and Substantial Effects of Peppermint on Exercise
It’s great when we have those little moments in our training that make all the difference in our performance or health. Like the first time people try magnesium as a supplement before bed and their sleep quality goes through the roof. That’s one of the major reasons to read Breaking Muscle - to get that game-changing information. One item I’ve come across recently is peppermint. That’s right, you didn’t read that wrong: peppermint.
Peppermint, and some of the other members of the mint family might well have some performance-enhancing or health-promoting effects you weren’t aware of. For example, mint has been shown to be a painkiller, and has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and antioxidant effects. Those effects are useful for performance, exercise recovery, and health. Just the smell of peppermint has been shown to reduce perceived effort, while improving mood and brainpower. However, compared to the amount of press some aromatherapies have received for their ergogenic properties, few studies have been undertaken to actually demonstrate the power of mint, until now.
In a recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers looked at the effect of peppermint oil on running performance. In the study they used .05ml of peppermint oil in a drink, consumed each day for ten consecutive days. They tested participants before and after peppermint consumption for various indicators of cardiovascular performance.
The results were actually pretty surprising. You might expect a boost, but the extent that peppermint consumption improved performance was considerable. The oil improved exercise performance, respiratory function, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory gas exchange. It also reduced resting blood pressure and heart rate. The amount of total work performed by the test subjects was increased by a whopping 51%, including an increase in the time to exhaustion of about 25%. So not only did the subjects go for a quarter longer than they did without the peppermint oil, their work rate per unit time was higher too. In other words, they went faster for longer.
After learning this I decided to research essential oil products, and it seems that the prices vary quite a bit. For fun, I picked a fairly expensive organic essential peppermint oil to see what the cost might be to take it regularly. The oil I chose cost about $15. Unfortunately there was no discussion of potency in the aforementioned research article, but I picked an oil that claimed high potency. At the amount used in the study, this one bottle would last for 600 days, costing about 2.5 cents per day. I have to say, for a performance enhancer boasting a 50% boost to total work, less than 3 cents a day sounds downright cheap.
I would have liked it if the researchers in this study used a more substantial control, as it seems there might be some unaccounted for variables without it, but nevertheless this study was eye opening. Considering that most research is done on the aroma of mints, a study like this showing such a big performance boost by drinking the oil is a big deal. I might just have to go out and grab a bottle of peppermint before my run this afternoon.
1. Abbas Meamarbashi, et. al., “The effects of peppermint on exercise performance,” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:15
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