Today we are under more stress than ever and yet taking our bodies to farther limits. As an athlete who does not rely on stimulants for an artificial boost in performance, I often employ other more natural modalities to support my body before, during and after exercise. One of my favourite discoveries has been the use of essential oils. It may surprise you to hear that the right oils can enhance physical performance, boost energy and even provide pain relief. For years I used only lavender and peppermint but as I learned more about oils I started adding in others to my tool kit. Here are my top picks:
While peppermint is one of the oldest go-tos for soothing digestion, there is a surprising link between peppermint oil and athletic performance. Using peppermint oil daily can help you to work harder longer.
- Improves respiratory function, dilates bronchioles and increases oxygen intake, for improved stamina and performance
- Increases pain tolerance and workload efforts
- Relieves aches and pains
- Decreases blood lactate levels, which elevate after strenuous exercise an cause muscles soreness
- Improves mental clarity and concentration
- Relieves sore muscles (think Icy Hot without all the junk)
- Relieves nausea and indigestion (think pregame jitters)
- Directly affects the brains satiety center and reduces cravings, helping you keep that nutrition on point
Action Item: Pre-work out dilute a 2-3 drops peppermint EO in coconut or other carrier oil, rub palms together and rub on chest, then cup hands over face and inhale deeply. Inhale peppermint EO when uncontrollable cravings hit.
Renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, these days Copaiba is getting a lot of buzz. However copaiba essential oil has been around for quite some time, 10 years with Young Living, and it has been used traditionally by natives for far longer. The copaiba tree is found deep in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest where it is tapped similar to a maple tree, the resin is then steam distilled.
- Has the most published research on anti-inflammatory effects, the main component of this oil is beta-caryophyllene, which is why cannabis (CBD) oil is getting all the hype these days. This oil registers BCP at 55%, the highest of any other oil including CBD.
- Natural pain relief, copaiba blocks the sensation of pain
- Protects the liver
- Powerful antioxidant
Action Item: Dilute and massage copaiba oil into muscles soon after a strenuous work out, to help prevent soreness. Or use at the onset of soreness.
Lemongrass is a woody fibrous grass originating in southeast Asia, and is often used in Thai cooking. Although lemongrass essential oil is traditionally used for digestion and purification, it is great for muscle relaxation as well.
- Relieves inflammation
- Improves circulation and promotes lymph flow
- This oil contains high level of the component citral, which has a warming effect, great for tired muscles
- Regenerates connective tissues, excellent for ligaments and joint issues
- Powerful antifungal properties, inhibits candida albicans
- Improves focus, clarity and relaxation
Action Item: Although there are numerous oils to help with fatigued muscles this is by far my favourite. It is especially good for stressed joint and ligaments. I often dilute and rub into my trick knee. It is great post injury as well.
In studies, the constituents of lavender have been shown to have both sedative and narcotic effects. Many pain relieving creams will contain lavender.
- Relaxes body and mind
- Promotes restful sleep, imperative for recovery
- Soothes aching muscles and regenerates tissues, speeding the healing of cuts, burns (even and bruises (sunburn)
- Reduces appetite (along with grapefruit)
- Reduces mental stress and increases alertness
- Repels pesky bugs
Action Item: Diffuse lavender oil at night to promote a good nights’ sleep, especially when you have an event the next day.
Traditionally the leaves of wintergreen were used by Native Americans to increase respiratory capacity during endurance running or difficult labor. It is a natural antioxidant and immune enhancer.
- Methyl Salicylate, the active constituent of wintergreen has strong soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, the synthetic version of this ingredient is used in NSAIDS like Ibuprofen https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2371308
- Wintergreen oil has been incorporated into many musculoskeletal ointments and creams like Bengay and Icy Hot
- Absorbs quickly into skin and has a numbing effect
- Soothing properties make it ideal for massage
- Great for masking odors
- Naturally freshens breathes, so it is found in many toothpastes and mouthwashes
Action Item: I prefer this oil for tension headaches, or mix with copaiba post-work out for those extra hard PR days. Place a drop of Wintergreen oil on a cotton ball and stick it in your gym bag.
Note: Essential oils are very powerful and can be used in excess. When applying topically it is always best practice to dilute a few drops into a carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil. Not only is this for safety, in fact many oils are more effective when used in dilution.
As you can see essential oils have many properties that are useful to athletic performance and recovery. They are particularly useful when recovering from injury. Furthermore, each oil has multiple uses that often overlap one another so you don’t have to break the bank stocking up. As I mentioned previously, I used just peppermint and lavender for a long time before branching out. Although, I do think I am now officially an oil junkie! I hoard them ya’ll. Whether you get one oil or a few I think you will find you can great results by adding essential oils to your athletic regimen.
Kristen Files is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner dedicated to helping people achieve optimal health through diet and lifestyle changes. Check out the full article with 5 more oil suggestions, resources and citations, or to purchase essential oils. Visit her site at Hearts for Health.