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Can Peppermint Improve Athletic Performance?

Ever since smoking was prohibited in night clubs, customers have increasingly noticed other unpleasant smells present in the club—like body odors. So, researchers in Europe thought they’d try to cover them up. The researchers measured the effects of peppermint, for example, on dancing activity and asked people to rate their energy level. They found that with peppermint scent, people felt more cheerful and danced more, and so, concluded the researchers, “environmental fragrancing may be expected to have a positive effects on club revenue.” Innovative nightclubs are already inviting “aroma jockeys” to smell the places up.

The business community caught whiff of this and thought maybe peppermint smell would get their secretaries to type faster. And it worked! There was improved performance on clerical tasks associated with the administration of peppermint odor.

In an age where athletic competitions are frequently won or lost by mere hundredths of a second, athletes are continually looking for new ways to excel in their sport. Researchers threw some collegiate athletes onto a treadmill and piped different smell into their nostrils, and those on peppermint reported feeling less fatigued, more vigorous, less frustrated, and felt they performed better. But did they actually perform better?  See my video, Enhancing Athletic Performance with Peppermint.

A different study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology measured actual performance, and participants were actually able to squeeze out one extra pushup before collapsing and cut almost two seconds off a quarter mile dash with an odorized adhesive strip stuck to their upper lip. Interestingly there was no significant difference in basketball free throws. The researchers think the reason is that free throws actually require some skill, and all the peppermint can do is really improve athletes’ motivation.

Unfortunately, follow-up studies were not able to replicate these results, showing no beneficial effect of smelling peppermint on athletic performance; so, how about eating peppermint? Researchers measured the effects of peppermint on exercise performance before and after ten days of having subjects drink bottles of water with a single drop of peppermint essential oil in them. And all the subjects’ performance parameters shot up, churning out 50 percent more work, 20 percent more power, and a 25 percent greater time to exhaustion. Improvements were found across the board in all those physiological parameters, indicating increased respiratory efficiency. They attribute these remarkable results to the peppermint opening up their airways, increasing ventilation and oxygen delivery.

Now, you can overdose on the stuff, but a few drops shouldn’t be toxic. Why not get the best of both worlds by blending fresh mint leaves in water rather than use the oil?

Sometimes aromatherapy alone may actually help, though:

Beet juice can also enhance athletic performance. See the dozen or so videos in the series starting with Doping With Beet Juice. Other ways healthy food can synergize with exercise:

I use peppermint in my Pink Juice with Green Foam recipe and talk about using the dried in Antioxidants in a Pinch. It can also help reduce IBS symptoms, as seen in Peppermint Oil for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Some other tea caveats, though:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a Day2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


12 responses to “Can Peppermint Improve Athletic Performance?

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  1. Great reminders of how good a simple addition of peppermint can be! What was the level at which estrogenic effects begun to kick in though? I believe Dr. G covered some evidence regarding an upper limit of peppermint tea drinking.

  2. Very interesting article – ty Dr Greger! I was on proton pump inhibitors for severe GERD for 9(!) yrs and was told to avoid all things minty, among other things. When I switched to wfpb a couple of years ago, I was able to stop the ppi meds within a month. I am tempted to try out the minty water.. wonder if it would have negative impact now? I will report back my experience

    @Dylan , this link has some discussion of the hormonal effects of mint tea http://www.healthyfellow.com/290/mint-tea-warning/

    1. My understanding is that peppermint contains a compound that actually decreases the strength of the lower esophageal “sphincter”, leading to upward leakage of stomach acid. I’ve heard they sometimes give it to people about to undergo colonoscopies, etc. to stop cramping and relax the muscles of the colon.

  3. Improve your athletic performance, add some antioxidants, and get some good tasting fresh vegies/herbs. For a small amount each day, I don’t see a downside. PLus it’s very easy to grow (perhaps too easy) in the garden. John S

  4. Hey Doc, been following you a few months now. Slowing increasing my vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. Have noticed a decrease in body weight. 6’0 (175-178 lbs) to 170 lbs. Scared to completely cut out meat due to losing even more weight. If there’s anything you would recommend to keep me at 175, that would be great! Keep up the good work!

    1. Maybe the 5 lbs lost is fat, in which case that’s a good thing. If you’re eating an equivalent caloric intake without meat and doing some resistance training I don’t see there’s a problem.

      When I went plant based nearly 8 years ago, I lost about 5lbs in a few weeks, despite lifting weights and eating lots. I think it was some deeper fat storez/tissue being purged along with some intestinal matter being finally removed by all the extra fibre etc. Conjecture of course, but that’s what I think.

      I returned to the same weight advert a few months and have been the same ever since.

      Go for it, your body will thank you

    2. Hi, Sha. I am Christine, a NF volunteer. To keep your weight from decreasing more than you would like, increase your overall calorie intake while maintaining a balanced diet. If your energy and nutrient needs are being met, your body should settle on a healthy weight and maintain it. If this does not happen, then you should see your doctor do determine if there is a medical reason for your continued weight loss.

    3. You must increase your starch to keep a healthy weight. Go ahead, cut out all meat and oils and add enough starch such as potatoes, brown rice, beans, lentils, etc. Watch the video Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall on youtube. You’ll know what I mean.

  5. 2 questions:
    1) I know Dr. Greger recommends using peppermint leaves instead of the essential oil but the experiment cited in this article uses the oil so can I assume it’s safe at the 1 drop level in the experiment? [All of the peppermint essential oils I’ve researched say they are for topical use only, not consumption but maybe a single drop per day is OK?]

    2) This paper indicates that the peppermint oil drinks also lowered the athletes’ blood pressure. I have slightly elevated BP so I’m thinking about trying this. However, other websites say that peppermint exacerbates high blood pressure. Does Dr. Greger have any knowledge as to which is likely to be correct?

    Thanks.

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