Peppermint & PBs: What’s the Truth?

I’ve read a few times on the web that peppermint, and particularly peppermint oil can enhance athletic performance but what’s the truth? And who has done the research? Can a swig of peppermint oil just before Parkrun really get me over the line with a PB, and can I continue this incrementally, week on week?  Always looking for the marginal gains (but without the asthma medication and dodgy pre-race Airmail parcels) I thought I’d look in to the official research to see if I can use it to get nearer to my Triathlon Dreams.

First let’s look at what is ‘athletic performance’? The official measurements look at endurance, muscular strength and exercise capacity.  For the first study I researched, Mearmabashi & Rajabi (2013) monitored ‘blood pressure, heart rate, and spirometry parameters including forced vital capacity (FVC), peak expiratory flow rate (PEF), and peak inspiratory flow (PIF)’,  both one day before, and after the 10 day supplementation period. ‘Participants underwent a treadmill-based exercise test with metabolic gas analysis and ventilation measurement using the Bruce protocol.’

Over a period of ten days, they found their 12 healthy male students’ athletic performance was enhanced, with increases in forced vital capacity, and a significant change in time to exhaustion (from 664.5s ± 114.2 vs. 830.2s ± 129.8 s), work (78.34 ±32.84 vs. 118.7 ± 47.38 KJ), and power (114.3 ± 24.24 vs. 139.4 ± 27.80 KW). That’s an incredible increased performance of 25%.

But why did this happen?  The researchers put it down to relaxation of bronchial smooth muscles, increase in the ventilation and brain oxygen concentration, and decrease in the blood lactate level – all things we know as triathletes are going to help us. I would have liked to have seen a control group run alongside the trial to make real sense of the data, but maybe that’s to come.

Fairgame. But I’m thinking I’m NOT a healthy young male, so can MY athletic performance still be enhanced?  And how?

Peppermint is known as an antispasmodic (we take it for sickness and heartburn) and its decongestant properties (think Vicks rub and cold/cough sweets).  It’s also got anti-inflammatory properties and is a cure-all for headaches, respiratory problems and more.  Peppermint is one of the mentha species (i.e., mentha piperita, peppermint oil, mentha arvensis, cornmint oil) with menthol and menthone being the major components of the peppermint essential oil.

If you’ve used a post-race rub, it’s likely that peppermint is a main component as external application is known to raise your pain threshold.  According to Mearmabashi & Rajabi  the peppermint aroma was also effective on ‘perceived physical workload, temporal workload, effort, and anxiety’.

Other research demonstrated the effectiveness of peppermint aroma administered through the nose or by mouth on the augmenting cognitive performance – peppermint as a pick-me-up. The aroma causes an improvement on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor response. In one study, perceived physical workload, temporal workload, and self-evaluated performance was reported by participants to have a significant effect on performance.

In a further search to turn up the effects of peppermint on lazy middle-aged women (me) I couldn’t find many answers, so I guess I will have to do it myself.  What I did find was another research article on the effect of peppermint pencils on students, research by Brian Raudenbush

The effects of peppermint scent on human performance have been well documented. However, little is known how this scent will affect cognitive performance outside of a laboratory setting. In the present study, freshman college students were provided a peppermint scented pencil during their freshman orientation course. At mid-term of the semester, these students completed a questionnaire related to their use and evaluation of the pencil. Questionnaires were returned from 180 students (115 males, 65 females, average age 18.31 years, SD = 0.63 years). Between subjects ANOVAs were performed on a variety of evaluation questions based on the frequency of pencil use (daily, a few times a week, once a week, once every few weeks, once a month, or less than once a month). In general, as use increased, ratings of the scented pencil’s effectiveness increased for the following dimensions: 1) Motivate to perform academically, 2) Energize, 3) Positively impact self-evaluated academic performance, 4) Provide a competitive edge academically, 5) Decrease level of fatigue, 6) Recommend use to others, and 7) Belief it was valuable to academic experience. In addition, participants were asked to indicate their student identification number if they were willing to allow the researchers access to their mid-term grades (as provided by the University Registrar). A significant effect was found, F(5,60)=3.73, p=.005. As use increased, midterm GPA increased. These findings are an indication that peppermint scent can have a marked impact on actual academic performance.

So I guess I will have to do my own research on us middle-aged triathletes, and I guess the minion will be getting peppermint scented pencils from Santa this year.

A 15ml bottle of doTERRA peppermint oil contains 400 peppermint leaves and each drop is the equivalent of 24 cups of peppermint tea.  One 15ml bottle holds 250 drops, so that’s a whole lot of motivation in a bottle!  If you would like to find out more or purchase your own peppermint, please click on the link 

I am looking for people to take part in a trial on athletic performance using peppermint water. Please contact me for further details. You will need to be taking part in regular sport and be willing to complete a short survey before and after taking a (free) peppermint supplement for two weeks.


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