The Fascinating Impact of Peppermint on Performance
Most runners have go-to meals and snacks for before, during and after training and racing. And oftentimes those meals are a result of years of experimentation and trial and error. But did you know that, apart from what physically works for your body, there’s another fascinating side to fueling and performance? Did you know that including something as simple as peppermint oil in your pre-run fueling regime could positively impact on your running performance? Pull up a chair and prepare to be fascinated.
The mint genus
A number of members of the mint genus of plants have, over the years, been shown to have a range of health-promoting effects. These include pain-killing, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and antioxidant effects, to name but a few. Members of the mint family are therefore commonly used to self-medicate a variety of ailments:
- To provide relief from seasonal allergy symptoms
- To act as a natural decongestant to break up phlegm and mucus
- To relieve a sore throat, especially when taken in tea form
- To calm and soothe an upset stomach
- To aid indigestion
- To relieve pain and discomfort associated with gas and bloating
- To treat abdominal pain and discomfort associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- To relieve mild pain, especially when taken in tea form
- To cool and calm skin affected by insect bites or rashes
- To freshen breath
Even the aroma of peppermint has been shown to improve mood and brainpower, whilst reducing perceived effort. That’s a whole lot of benefits locked up in one very common, widespread plant genus, right?
But it wasn’t until fairly recently that the effect of oral supplementation with peppermint (which is a member of the mint genus) on running performance was investigated in more depth.
The impact of peppermint on performance
A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2013 found that oral supplementation with peppermint essential oil resulted in a positive impact on exercise performance, respiratory function, systolic blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory gas exchange. Peppermint oil ingestion also reduced both resting blood pressure and heart rate. Which, we’re sure you’d agree, is a whole mouthful!
But, perhaps even more fascinating, is the fact that the total work performed by test subjects showed a 51% increase after ten days of peppermint oil supplementation. And, in addition, time to exhaustion showed a similar trend by increasing with approximately 25%. Which, in short, means that peppermint oil supplementation was found to allow test subjects to go faster for longer. Any runner’s dream outcome.
The study was based on 12 healthy, male students ingesting 0.05 ml of peppermint essential oil in 500 ml of mineral water for ten consecutive days. The test subjects were not allowed to do any additional medium to strenuous exercise during the test period, and they all followed a strictly controlled diet.
The study concluded, however, that the exact mechanism underlying the effect of peppermint oil supplementation on exercise performance and respiratory parameters is yet to be unraveled.
Too much peppermint oil isn’t a good thing
But, before you start chugging peppermint oil in vast volumes, be warned. Too much peppermint oil is not a good thing. A study in India concluded that, since peppermint oil is very concentrated and it contains compounds that could be harmful when ingested in excess, it is indeed possible to overdose on it.
According to this study certain compounds in peppermint oil could act as neuro-toxic agents that may lead to a loss of muscle strength and hypoxia if taken in too large quantities. Something that you definitely want to avoid.
In addition, excessive peppermint oil consumption may also lead or contribute to the following adverse conditions, among others:
- Interrupted sleep
- Skin rashes
- Urinary problems
- Either slow or rapid breathing
- Stomach pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased libido
Peppermint consumption may also worsen the effects of heartburn, hiatus hernias and stomach ulcers.
Note that peppermint is generally not recommended for everyday use.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) sufferers and pregnant or breastfeeding moms: Stay away!
And for sufferers of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), there’s even more bad news. A study by the University of Maryland concluded that persons affected by GERD should steer clear from peppermint oil ingestion. The study reported that peppermint would relax the sphincter (a muscle that separates the esophagus form the stomach) and allow stomach acid to go back into esophagus, thus peppermint could worsen heartburn and indigestion.
Peppermint is also not recommended for use by pregnant or breastfeeding mothers as a result of potential emmenagogue (menstruation stimulating) effects.
And while the proven impacts of peppermint oil on running performance certainly is exciting, remember that no amount of peppermint oil supplementation can ever replace consistent, clever training. Also keep in mind that no long-term studies have been conducted on the amount of peppermint oil to be ingested for optimal, safe performance enhancement. And with a very real possibility of overdosing on peppermint oil, you definitely don’t want to overdo it.
So for now it would perhaps be best to jazz up that pre-run smoothie with a sprig of freshly-picked peppermint every once in a while. Because in addition to a fresh, minty taste, it might just give you enough oomph to nail that new PB. It’s worth a try, right?
The surprising and substantial effects of peppermint on exercise, Doug Dupont, Undated
Peppermint, drugs.com, Undated
The effects of peppermint on exercise performance, Abbas Meamarbashi and Ali Rajabi, 21 March 2013
Mint: Health benefits, uses and risks, Megan Ware, 16 February 2016
Can peppermint help improve athletic performance?, Peak Fitness, 4 November 2016