We’ve all heard it’s better to breathe through your nose, but when push comes to shove and you’re hitting that sprint or pedaling up that hill, your nose suddenly doesn’t seem like a very viable breathing machine. And in fact, it’s not–studies have shown that most noses are physiologically incapable of inhaling adequate amounts of air during elevated heart rates, even sometimes in cases where the athlete has practiced nose breathing. In clinical trials, it was even shown that breathing through the mouth during strenuous activity increases oxygen intake,
Does this mean that mouth breathing is indeed a better option for athletes?
It’s a bit more complicated than that. While mouth breathing is the most accessible option for the majority of people, it’s linked to a host of acute and accrued health issues that actively hinder athletic performance. Mouth breathing can contribute to dehydration, lung inflammation, imbalanced blood pH, and decreased stamina and mental clarity.
Nose breathing, on the other hand, is proven to support lung health, regulate hydration levels, and protect organs, muscles, and the immune system from damage. Many of these benefits are due to the fact that nasal breathing stimulates the production of nitric oxide, an antimicrobial and vasodilator that boosts blood flow and increases physical resiliency. The nose is also linked to the areas of the brain that regulate short term memory and mood, and studies have shown that regular nose breathing sharpens focus, boosts memory formation and recall, and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, balancing mood and supporting healthy stress response.
Since the advent of adhesive nasal strips in the 1990s, athletes have been using nasal enhancement systems to attempt to access nose breathing while engaging in hard exercise and competition. However, multiple studies have shown adhesive nasal strips to be ineffective, or negligible, in terms of performance enhancement. It wasn’t until nearly three decades later in 2018 that companies revisited this corner of the athletic market and made a nasal breathing system specifically for athletes.