Oxygen Supercharging No Help
WINDED athletes come off the playing field and start breathing pure oxygen. Often, oxygen tanks are available alongside the water bottles. Does it speed up recovery or improve performance? Not according to research published in the September/October 1989 issue of the medical magazine Hippocrates. Athletes ran on a treadmill until exhausted, then breathed pure oxygen. Then another exhausting run on the treadmill, but this time they breathed from a tank that contained room air. They went through this routine twice. They did no better after breathing pure oxygen than they did after breathing room air. Some insisted that they could tell which tank was which, but as often as not, they were wrong.
Blood samples taken before and after each test “demolished the notion that pure oxygen speeds recovery by sending more of the gas to tired muscles. . . . The blood levels of lactate—a chemical that temporarily builds up in the blood when hard-working muscles run out of oxygen—were essentially the same, no matter which tank was used. If more oxygen were getting to the muscles, lactate would have been lower.”
Blood holds only so much oxygen and can easily get that amount from atmospheric air. Pure oxygen does not supercharge the blood with an overload of oxygen or help the athlete recover faster from vigorous exercise. Recovery from being winded comes when the heart pumps faster, bringing more blood to the muscles’ cells and thereby delivering more oxygen. The blood holds no more oxygen. It just delivers its load of oxygen faster, and that makes recovery quicker.