The Healthy Executive

Does Increasing Oxygen Increase Our Performance?

Oxygen Self-Experiment

Recently a client CEO in the pursuit of elite health got me thinking about the broader connection between oxygen and performance, health, and fitness.

The Self-Experiment Hypothesis

Improvements in my blood oxygen levels may translate to measurable and/or sustainable fitness improvements.

oxygen

The Science

“We conclude that supplemental oxygen provided during high-intensity training yields higher training intensity and evidence of gains in exercise tolerance.” (American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2003).

Oxygen Self-Experiment Protocol

I ran the following experiments on myself over several weeks:

Experiment Possible OutcomeObjective Measure  
SPO2 using H2O2Strength &
Aerobic Capacity
Oximeter
(clinical oxygen
saturation)
O2 Saturation Strength &
Lean Body Mass
Push ups,
Bench press
Lung Strength Aerobic Capacity VO2 Max
Spirometer
Sustainability Are improvements
significant and lasting?
Compare measures against
baseline and trend over time

The Role Of Oxygen In Your Health

Our bodies process three things: food, liquid, and oxygen. And while we might enjoy eating and drinking more, oxygen provides critical fuel that powers our body. Through a process called oxidation, oxygen chemically changes food nutrients and water into energy. This “oxygen fire” contracts our muscles, repairs our cells, and powers our brain. Plus breathing reduces stress and cleanses our body of toxins.

Oxygen is critical for multicellular existence. Its reduction to water by the mitochondrial electron transport chain helps supply the metabolic demands of human life. The incompletely reduced, reactive oxygen byproducts of this reaction, however, can be quite toxic.

Executives typically work in cities. Although current research is not conclusive, there is a school of thought that suggests urban environments may be lower in oxygen and higher in oxidants compared rural environments.

My Oxygen Experiment Results

These are the results of 3 separate self-experiments (n=1) to improve my performance by improving my oxygen efficiency:

  • Oxygen Saturation – Useful
    • Deep breathing (15-25 deep breaths though the nose) increases Nitrous Oxide (NO) and vasodilates your veins delivering more oxygen to muscles resulting in an average 20% increase in immediate strength.
    • The purpose of increasing immediate strength is to stimulate lean muscle mass growth in the longer term.
      • Caution: Use of a spotter is strongly recommended when handling heavy weights with this technique because of hypocapnia due to hyperventilation.
  •  SPO2 using H2O2 – Not Useful
    • I took a lot of flack for this experiment (ok, maybe orally ingesting hydrogen peroxide is a little weird).
    • My V02 Max (aerobic efficiency) and oxygen-saturated hemoglobin showed no statiscial improvement over 2 weeks.
  • Lung Strength – Not Useful
    • Elevation training masks are currently trendy and based on the theory that restricting breathing leads to stronger and more efficient lungs.
    • I discontinued this experiment based on the latest available research. Bottom line: the theory does not pan out in practice.
Experiment SPO2 VO2 MaxBench
Press
Push-upsSpirometer
Baseline Data92%-93%
48.8
ml/kg/min
8 x 125
reps
47
reps
no baseline
SPO2 using H2O293%-95% 47.4
ml/kg/min
n/an/an/a
O2 Saturation n/an/a10 x 125
reps
54
reps
n/a
Lung Strengthdiscontinueddiscontinueddiscontinueddiscontinueddiscontinued
Improvement & Sustainability Not statistically significant Not statistically significant 25%15%discontinued

Conclusion

Based on my experimental data (remembering that n=1), deep breathing is a simple and useful technique to boost immediate strength. It increase strength training repetitions and/or weights, which it turn increases lean muscle mass growth.

In reviewing my other experimental data, I could see no statistical differences between training in rural or urban environments. For a healthy body, it appears that the oxygen regulating systems are self-optimizing and even my bio-hacking attempts were unable to improve on mother nature.

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