Airing Out Oxygen Drinks

Posted on Mar 30, 2012 in Health & Wellness

We all need to breath oxygen in order to live, but athletes have taken it to the next level by using supplemental oxygen (O2) as an athletic enhancer for many years – , so much so that we commonly see professional football players inhale oxygen through masks on the sidelines. More recently, bottled waters and other sports beverages have capitalized on this concept with beverages that contain up to 10 times the amount of O2 as regular drinks.

So why the rush to oxygenate? The notion stems from observations that breathing O2 during exercise can enhance athletic performance. However, supplemental O2 improves performance only during exercise, not before, after or between bouts. Despite its increased popularity among professional and amateur athletes alike, no well-documented scientific study has ever linked pre-exercise oxygen supplementation with significant improvement in performance. So if you ever see someone wearing an oxygen mask before a competition or event, the effect on their performance is comparable to wearing a lucky rabbit’s foot – it’s all in their heads.

The same applies to oxygenated water, according to Dr. Claude Piantadosi, director of the Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology at Duke University Medical Center, in a 2006 article for the British Journal of Sports Medicine. He argues the idea that athletes may gain a competitive edge by drinking oxygenated water is based on flimsy rationale with no rigorous experimental support. The solubility of oxygen in water is low in the first place, he points out, and it isn’t known whether oxygen is actually absorbed from drinking water, hyper-oxygenated or not.

And an analysis of the five brands of oxygenated water suggests they actually contain less oxygen per liter than a single breath of ordinary fresh air. Researchers found no differences between people drinking oxygenated and plain water across a range of variables, including VO2 max (an oxygen-capacity test), blood lactate and recovery as well as performance.

While few studies have taken the opposing position, one such unpublished study from Texas Women’s University by Dr. John Duncan (and sponsored by Life O2 oxygenated water) found that after drinking oxygenated water, test subjects ran a five-kilometer time trial faster than when they drank regular bottled water prior to testing.

Similar studies, however, are in the minority. More common are studies like the one completed by the Journal of Exercise Physiology, which tested 12 healthy college students by randomly assigned them to drink 16 ounces of tap water or super-oxygenated water and then perform a multi-stage treadmill test. The study concluded that there was no evidence to support the claims that drinking super-oxygenated water enhances performance or recovery from exhaustive exercise. It also concluded that manufacturers’ claims that these drinks contain seven to ten times more oxygen than regular beverages may be exaggerated.

While increasing your oxygen intake may not help, increasing your body’s utilization of oxygen can certainly help boost your athletic performance. Here are a few beneficial nutrients that have proven effective in increasing oxygen utilization:

  • Iron: If we lack iron, we will produce less hemoglobin, and therefore supply less oxygen to our tissues. Sources: soybeans, lentils, spinach, tofu and red meat.
  • Folic Acid: Another key nutrient in healthy red blood cell formation. The healthier these cells are, the more efficiently oxygen is utilized in the body. Sources: Romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, broccoli and beets.
  • Vitamin B6: It plays a critical role in the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. Sources: Tuna, bananas, chicken breast and whole grains.
  • Vitamin B12: This vitamin is probably the most well-known for the creation of healthy red blood cells. A B12 deficiency is one of the main causes of pernicious anemia, which is the inability of the bloodstream to carry oxygen. Sources: Calf’s liver, snapper, salmon, kelp, tempeh and tofu.

In the end, there’s very little reliable evidence to show that oxygenated drinks have any significant effect on your exercise performance, energy levels, or recovery. While oxygen – and oxygenated beverages – may not affect your athletic performance, hydration certainly will. Always drink water or a sports beverage before, during and after exercise to provide you with energy and carbohydrates to power through your workout and recover from it afterwards.