If I told you that there was a pill that you could take that would make you run faster, jump higher and improve your cognitive ability, would you take it? What if I then told you that you could get this pill for free, by simply being conscious of its existence and where to find it? Would you seek it? Well, you wouldn’t be the first person to do so. Athletes have been using air to improve their physical and cognitive performance for ages. Here’s how:
It can give us more energy
Perhaps the most well known example of improving performance by altering air, is high altitude training. Higher altitudes have a lower air pressure and as such, less oxygen per square meter. Erythropoietin (EPO) in the body, kick starts the production of red blood cells to help deliver oxygen to the muscles. More oxygen means more energy, so you can imagine what happens to these athletes when they back down the mountain to compete. Their bodies maintain their altered physiology, increasing the amount of oxygen going to the muscles and giving them the edge they need to win.
Oddly enough, EPO when taken as a drug rather than obtained through high altitude training, is banned in most sports as it’s considered as doping. In fact, it was one ingredient in the cocktail of drugs used by Lance Armstrong.
It can help us heal
Other athletes, from the NHL to deep sea divers, use oxygen therapy to speed up the healing process. Tired sport stars walk away from training and climb into big rubber condoms filled with 100% oxygen. These condoms are then subjected to a high atmospheric pressure. Although this may sound like torture, the conditions speed up the healing process by boosting the production of mitochondria, which generates energy for our lovely cells to use. New York Giants running back, Rashad Jennings, sleeps in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber 7-20 hours a week and nothing I write will ever sell the benefits of air like he puts it:
‘It chops down any injuries that you have, any headaches, any owies.’
Bad air slows us down
High altitude training and $18,000 hyperbaric oxygen chambers are unachievable for us common people. Luckily there is a way to boost performance that’s used by athletes all over the world, which is by simply avoiding bad air. It should come as no surprise that athletes, like Ethiopian marathon world champ, dropped out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics marathon over concerns that the air pollution would damage his career.
And today, champions are taking it even further. For the Rio Olympics 2016, Swedish athletes partnered up with air filtration companies, like Camfil, to improve air quality in their apartments in Sweden and Rio. This was done in order to maximize their recovery after training and make sure all the athletes stayed at their peak during the Olympics.
As Hippocrates put it; ‘Air is the first food and first medication.’ Most olympians don’t eat a McBacon Double Cheese Burger before a big race, so why would they breathe McAir?