Athletes are always on the cutting edge of nutrition optimization, utilizing every resource available to train their bodies in incredible ways. The appeal of the next big thing to maximize performance and recovery has led to an endless string of unscrupulous choices, as evidenced by “performance enhancing” drugs. An active person who wants to support their body in natural ways such as using essential oils for athletes is to be commended!

Essential oils for athletes are powerful, useful tools. No matter your expertise or skill level, there is an essential oil for you. Here are some of the reasons essential oils for athletes should be added to your gym bag!

1. Essential Oils for Athletes: Immune Support

Without a solid immune system, an athlete could never keep up with the rigors of training and the demands of a competitive schedule. At first thought, one might expect an athlete who eats well and exercises regularly to have a strong immune system by default, right? Not so much.

A (very) recently published study summarized the concern well:

Prolonged bouts of exercise and heavy training regimens are associated with depression of immune system functions that can increase the risk of picking up opportunistic infections such as the common cold and influenza. (1)

In other words, while we know and expect routine exercise to keep us healthy and with a strong immune system, training can actually stress the immune system and leave the athlete vulnerable to more of the commonly circulating illnesses.

And who wants to miss a practice or event thanks to a cold?

Many essential oils for athletes can help block viruses and bacteria outright, and some of them can even help to modulate the immune system itself. Incorporate these three essential oils for athletes for their strong immune boosting ability:

  • Clove: In 2010, researchers found that clove essential oil (but not the other oils they tested) increased white blood count and other signals of immunity for the mice they tested. (2) This is a great indicator of clove oil's immune boosting benefits.
  • Frankincense: Another lab test, this one in 2014, evaluated the composition of frankincense oil and its effects on the immune system. In line with what we already know about frankincense experientially, the oil showed strong immune-boosting effects on white blood cells. (3)
  • Eucalyptus: Another immune stimulant, eucalyptus can modify the immune response with simple inhalation. One research article notes that this is “surprising” since eucalyptus is also antimicrobial, an action pairing that is not common. (4) Eucalyptus is a powerhouse for boosting the immune system and keeping illness away.

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2. Essential Oils for Athletes: Performance Boosters

Assuming you've got your immune system supported enough to keep training and thriving, the next thought most athletes have is how to get better. Better time, better endurance, better results.

Performance boosting substances are the most controversial and yet still the most sought after. In the case of synthetics and drugs, they can also be the most dangerous, wreaking havoc on the very body on which your athletic achievements depend!

Instead of trying to artificially boost performance, the natural-minded athlete knows that you have to treat your body well to see great results. One of the best essential oils for athletes to help maximize their efforts is peppermint.

Peppermint has been tested extensively for its performance boosting abilities. Control experiments with athletes have demonstrated immediate improvement in performance measures like jumping, endurance, and respiration. (5)

According to a 2014 study out of Iran, peppermint actually affects blood pressure, breathing and other physiological measures.

“An improvement in the spirometric measurements (FVC1, PEF, and PIF) might be due to the peppermint effects on the bronchial smooth muscle tonicity with or without affecting the lung surfactant.” (5)

Topical application and inhalation has been shown to improve pain tolerance and workload effort. (6)

Add peppermint to your training regimen – whether internally, topically, or inhaled – to boost your athletic performance ability in a demonstrated, natural way.

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3. Essential Oils for Athletes: Soothing Achy Muscles

After all of that training, you've had your fair share of aches, pains, and sore muscles. An aromatherapy massage oil or bath can relax and soothe after a long day of training – regardless of the oil! The scents you enjoy will relax and rejuvenate you while the massage or warmth help to reduce inflammation and pain.

For specific oils that have been shown to help with pain, I would turn to lavender and peppermint – which, incidentally, pair quite well!

Lavender

The mainstay of essential oils for athletes, lavender was studied in 2014 for its effects on neck pain. The oil was added to a cream that participants massaged onto the painful area daily. Pain relief was calculated with multiple pain scales and the essential oil cream was effective over the unscented control. (7)

Peppermint

As we've already seen, peppermint in athletic situations has helped to minimize pain. It's well known for its analgesic properties, as well as antispasmodic for those tight muscles. (8) Include peppermint in massage oil formulations or simply dilute it into a carrier oil to rub on sore muscles.

The cooling sensation of peppermint as well as the refreshing scent make it perfect for refreshing after a hard day of training.

Traditional Oils

Many oils have been traditionally used for pain relief, such as fir oil. Ayurvedic practices cite the use of fir essential oil as the “forest healer” used for various kinds of joint and muscle pain relief. (9)

Wintergreen is also known for deep pain relief, but it is also potentially toxic. Make sure you know and understand the effects of each oil you choose, as well as potential risks and contraindications.

4. Essential Oils for Athletes: Antimicrobial Healing

Sore muscles are one thing, but sometimes the aches and pains give way to scrapes and cuts. A rough slide into home plate, a fall on the track – athletic ventures put your body through the wringer and sometimes across the pavement!

Instead of over the counter antibiotic ointments, make a simple DIY injury spray with astringent witch hazel and antimicrobial essential oils for athletes. Some oils to include might be:

To make the spray: Add essential oils of choice to half an ounce of 190 proof alcohol to a 2 ounce spray bottle and then fill the rest of the way with witch hazel. It is recommended to keep this spray refrigerated and frequently check for microbial growth, keeping it no longer than a month.

Extra Tip: Non-Toxic Solution to Stinky Sports Gear

Freshen up that smelly athletic gear with antimicrobial and bright smelling lemon essential oil.

Odor-eating powder: Add 5-10 drops of lemon essential oil to some baking soda and sprinkle into shoes and onto gear.

Scent-killing spray: Add 5-10 drops each of lemon, orange, and lime (or your favorite citrus oils) to half an ounce of 190 proof alcohol in a 2oz spritz bottle. Slowly fill the rest of the way with distilled water, shake gently, and spray.

What's your favorite essential oils for athletes? What essential oil works best to relieve your aches and pains?

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