Menthol tricks your brain
If you’ve ever had menthol toothpaste or chewing gum, you are familiar with the cooling sensation it produces. And that has a lot to do with how menthol works as a sports supplement too. Menthol acts on your TRMP8 receptors, which are responsible for detecting cold. It has the ability to chemically trigger this cold-sensing reaction. This means that your body can be tricked into thinking that it’s cold even though it’s actually in a very hot environment.
Menthol can reduce perceived exertion
It has been hypothesised that menthol use would reduce thermal discomfort, which would make it easier to pedal harder. Would that tricking of the brain into thinking the body is colder than it actually is result in higher risk of heat injury? One recent study tested this.
They set up a 16-km time trial in hot conditions (33.5 °C with 33% relative humidity) and compared giving participants a t-shirt spray consisting of water or menthol. The results showed that the group that received a menthol spray felt cooler and perceived less exertion. The results also showed that the core temperatures of the cyclists rose equally in both the water and menthol groups. So there was no increased risk of overheating.
Menthol mouth-rinses improve endurance
Feeling cooler and perceiving less exertion sound promising, but does this translate into actual performance improvements? Several studies tested whether a simple mouth rinse, drinking a bit of menthol liquid and spitting it out, would help in endurance sports such as running and cycling. One study revealed that using a menthol rinse compared to cold water improved running time to exhaustion by 3%. Similarly, a different study showed that menthol rinse improved time to exhaustion while cycling at 70% power wattage by 9%.
The research so far seems pretty convincing that menthol is effective in athletic performance. Will we see more of these supplements used this year in the Tour de France or the Olympic Games? And will this spark a mass interest in cycling enthusiasts worldwide? Either way, it’s better to be prepared. That’s why the next article will be focused on how to best use menthol supplements if you feel like experimenting with them in your training.