Are You Looking For a New Way to Boost Your Athletic Performance?
The secret may be right under your nose.
Of all your senses, only the sense of smell acts directly with the brain. When you perceive an odor, it is because the molecules of that odor activate specific receptors in the nasal epithelium and then in the olfactory bulb. These receptors send nerve impulses directly to the limbic center of the brain via a neurochemical code. The limbic system is where emotional responses are concentrated. Recent research indicates that humans can recognize and remember about 10,000 different odors.
The information from all your other senses such as sight, sound or touch is transferred through a series of nerve connections and processing filters that interpret the signals. This interpretation is shaped by all kinds of environmental and experiential influences – which causes a delay between the stimulus and a response.
With our sense of smell, the brain makes an immediate and unfiltered determination of “good odor” or “bad odor” – then it works to interpret and add meaning to the smells that were experienced.
Numerous studies, conducted around the globe, indicate that odors have an impressive and measurable affect on the behavior and mood state on humans. Research has validated that certain smells stimulate EEG patterns while others slow the frequency of Alpha brain waves and induce a state of relaxation and even sleep. A number of other studies have proven that particular odors increase pain tolerance, improve athletic performance and enhance alertness.
It's not surprising that nearly 1 billion dollars a year are spent on all kinds of scented products designed to elevate the mood, reduce anxiety, energize the mind and enhance romance.
Scented Breathing and Athletic Performance
It's probably safe to say that most people prefer the scent of fresh pine over the smell of burning rubber. That said, you'll likely be in a better mood being exposed to the pine versus the rubber. One step further than just being in a good mood is performing at a higher level. Recent research has provided evidence that smelling certain odors before or during your workout may boost your athletic performance as well.
In a preliminary study of 24 men and women cyclists between the ages of 19 and 47, researchers found that participants who smelled a specially formulated fragrance experienced an increase in endurance and leg speed as well as a reduced level of perceived pain than during exposure to a recognizable food odor or a pleasant neutral odor.
All test subjects were in good health and had normal olfactory ability, as measured by a preliminary medical assessment. Each subject completed a battery of pre and post-trial cognitive, physical and psychological assessments that included; speed, stamina and pain tolerance measurements; assessments of training frequency, personal goals, life satisfaction, etc.; and rating of body image, feelings of self esteem, confidence, etc.
The subjects participated in a rigorous 1-hour race simulation on stationary bicycles, followed by a two-day period to rest. During all phases of the blind testing, each participant was given a specially designed finger ring that had been infused with one of the particular scents. The subjects were instructed to inhale the scent prior to excursion and anytime they wanted throughout the trials. All subjects repeated the physical exercises under each odor condition over an eight-day period.
The findings showed that the special formulation most effected the participant's performance when there was a physical or mental goal to aim at. Increased cadence, longer duration of a sustained seated sprint and longer duration of a standing climb, all showed measurable improvement.
Perceived power output was reported to be higher as was a feeling of increased stamina. A modest increase in pain tolerance due to lactic acid buildup was also noted.
Female subjects reported themselves feeling more positive about their body image and having an increased willingness to exert maximum effort even under the vigilance of the testing environment.
The study found the athletes more willing to accept instructions to push their physical limits under the special odorant condition. And both male and female participants reported feeling more satisfied with the results of the special odorant workout and happier overall afterward.
These findings suggest that the special scent creates a physiological effect that stimulates the nervous and circulatory systems; a chemical effect that triggers the release of dopamine, endorphins and other neurotransmitters; and a psychological effect that elicits behavioral changes in mood, motivation, desire, attention, satisfaction, etc.
The researchers, working in behalf of Inhalex.com (an supplement company) are keeping the formulas for the special odor under wraps but did mention that the primary goal of the study, to identify a viable inhalable ergogenic, had been met and that further study is needed to refine the delivery mechanism.
According to other survey studies, inhaling the proprietary scents were shown to produce physiological and psychological changes in the participants. Measurable improvement in the athletes' performance, motivation, ease of breathing, energy, speed, alertness, reaction time, confidence and strength were validated.
Runners in the 2006 Las Vegas marathon reported increased speed and endurance. Cyclists in a clinical study experienced increased leg speed and reduced pain. Skiers and snow boarders at Brian Head Ski Resort in Utah reported improved breathing. Cyclists in the 2006 Triple By-Pass, single-day cycling event in Colorado reported themselves feeling more motivated and willing to push their physical limits. The inhalation of the scents before or during athletic competitions enhances an athlete's mood and motivation and subsequent performance. The findings indicate a beneficial outcome from inhaling the scent and that the supplement could serve as an important adjunct to an athlete's normal training regiment. Using the scents could also help an athlete maintain a positive mood during physical therapy.
The Nose Has It
For decades, cyclists in Europe have used various inhalants as energy aids — though they complain of the constant mess created by them, when they were applied. The bottom line seems to be that inhaling a particular fragrance does make a measurable difference in athletic performance.
Exciting research has also been conducted on the use of other proprietary scents. One that works as a relaxant to induce sleep, one that helps reduce food cravings and another that stimulates romantic feelings.
Before long we may all be taking what's good for us, right up the nose.