As an endurance athlete, there is one nutrient that’s critical to your overall performance: oxygen. Simply put, the less breaths you take per minute and the more efficiently your body utilizes oxygen and carbon dioxide, the better and more efficient you will perform. I’m going to take it a step further; aerobic energy production is most effective when we nasal breathe, not mouth breathe.
Mouth and nasal breathing differ dramatically in how they physiologically support the body and brain. How you breathe determines many factors, including how well you’re oxygenating your cells, whether you’re burning fat or sugar, the release of hormones, heart rates, lactic acid build-up, cardiovascular and digestive function and so much more. Breathing rates control heartrates, heartrates control brainwave activity and neurochemistry, while neurochemistry triggers the body to burn fat or sugar energy (Pal et al., 2014).
Our bodies need a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide to function properly. Only nasal breathing can do this correctly and only nasal breathing can produce nitric oxide, which is a bronchodilator and vasodilator that helps to lower your blood pressure and significantly improves oxygen being absorbed in the lungs (Otolaryngol, 2001).
- Warm-Up with breath: Warm-ups play a vital role in preparing our bodies for their workout. Learn how to activate your digestion system instead of more “junk miles.”
- Train with breath: Use nasal breathing to balance the ANS and biohack into flow states.
- Recover with breath: Integration periods at the end of a workout are key for preparing the body for your next workout.
So here it is, in training protocols (racing can be different), unless you are in jeopardy of being eaten by a tiger, nasal breathe on your inhale and your exhale. Our mouths are designed for eating and our noses for breathing. Our mouth triggers the stress response and our nose triggers the relaxation response. It’s that simple.
In most athletic training and exercise, the sympathetic response is over stimulated and hinders digestive function. Our digestive system is a tremendous source of energy for the body. When activated skillfully, we’re warming the body up “from the inside out” instead of overusing skeletal and musculoskeletal systems. By incorporating various nasal-breathing techniques, we can tease and relax the autonomic nervous system.
Watch the below video for an endurance training warm-up routine:
After the body has been properly activated, we now want to maintain that same level of integrity in the meat of our workout or training. As an endurance athlete, we want to use energy efficiently which means we must maintain healthy heart rates while creating balance in the autonomic nervous system influencing both sympathetic and parasympathetic systems (Jerath et al., 2006).
In addition, there are 5 neurochemicals involved in flow (or the zone):
- Serotonin relaxes and creates community in our thought forms.
- Dopamine is our source of motivation and desire.
- Endorphins are nature’s natural pain killer.
- Anandamide is called the “bliss molecule.”
- Norepinephrine cuts down all the noise and distraction of what’s not important now.
Train in flow to race in flow. If you can’t train in flow, it’s really hard to create it on race day with all the stress and distractions. Utilizing breath control in the warm ups and staying with different types of nostril sequences in training protocols will maintain a low to mid-level flow state (Sinicki, 2014).
Sequencing mindful breathing techniques provides the platform to biohack into flow states. Mouth breathing signals the brain for the release of sympathetic hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. However, engaging the diaphragm muscle (stable posture using muscles of inhale) and vagus nerve (part of ANS controlling heart rate & digestion) through nasal breathing signal the release of serotonin (calm) and dopamine (feel good) creating the “cocktail” necessary for flow and heart rate variability (Elliott, 2010).
The key is to get warmed up fast and have an efficient use of energy, time and distance. With this you have more energy for the meat of your workout and less wear and tear on all the body’s systems aiding in recovery later.
Watch the below video for an endurance training routine:
Lastly, making time for relaxation and integration after every workout is an essential part of recovery. How you end your workout is laying the foundation for your next training day. We want to support our immune system by helping to “clean up” the demands of our fitness routines.
After each out workout, give yourself 8-10 minutes to lie down for a guided relaxation and body scan of muscles used in training. Get yourself as comfortable as possible by placing a pillow under your neck and knees. Set a timer so your mind is happy and won’t keep distracting with you wondering what time it is. Use your breath to slow down brainwave activity from the high beta waves to more of a lower alpha state of awareness and learning. One note, if you fall asleep in this experience, you’re over-training and should back off for 1 to 3 days.
Watch the below video for an endurance training recovery meditation routine:
Whether you're a training athlete or fitness enthusiast, there is a science to exercising your body. Utilizing Breath as Medicine is key to sustainable performance and recovery. This is exercising as a Mind Body Athlete™.
Go BE Great
Pal, G., Agarwal, A., Karthik, S., Pal, P., & Nanda, N. (2014). Slow yogic breathing through right and left nostril influences sympathovagal balance, heart rate variability, and cardiovascular risks in young adults. North American Journal of Medical Sciences North Am J Med Sci, 6(3), 145. doi:10.4103/1947-2714.128477
Am J Otolaryngol. (2001). Jan-Feb. Nitric oxide in the nasal airway: a new dimension in otorhinolaryngology. 22(1):19-32 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11172211
Jerath R, Edry JW, Barnes VA, Jerath V. (2006). Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Med Hypotheses. 67(3):566-71. Epub 2006 Apr 18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16624497
Elliott, S. (2010, January 08). Diaphragm Mediates Action of Autonomic and Enteric Nervous Systems. BMED Report. Retrieved May 22, 2016, from http://www.bmedreport.com/archives/8309
Sinicki, A. (2014, August 11). The Neuroscience of Highly Productive Flow States. The Bioneer. http://www.thebioneer.com/neuroscience-of-flow-states/