Before reading this article, I want you to perform a test called the bolt test. Start by taking a normal breath in through your nose, and a normal breath out through your nose. Then again, inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose, and after you exhale normally, squeeze your nose with your fingers to make sure no air is coming in or out. Then we hold our breath until we feel the first urge to breathe, so NOT as long as we can, but as soon as we feel some sort of call to breathe, such as an involuntary swallowing or contracting of the stomach. The first breath after the breath-hold should be regular, and you should not be gasping for air. When doing this test, have a stopwatch in the background to see how long you can hold it before that first urge. Anything less than 30 seconds and your sensitivity for carbon dioxide is too high(more on why that is bad later), which means that your body can; become more efficient, do more with less, and have not reached its true potential. This article is written for you to understand the importance of breathing correctly and how it can affect your performance.
There's a big misconception out there, i.e.," Taking deeper breaths will supply our muscles with more oxygen." Our blood is usually fully saturated(SpO2 100). SpO2 represents the percentage of oxygen-carrying red blood cells containing oxygen(O2) within the blood. So a SpO2 100 would mean the 100% of the red blood cells or containing oxygen. Why would you then breathe in a larger volume of air? It's physically impossible to increase O2 of the blood this way since the blood it's almost fully saturated already. It's like pouring water into a glass filled to the brim. Therefore, increasing O2 saturation to a 100% has no added benefits. Since the blood is already saturated. A SpO2 100 would suggest that the bond between red blood cells and O2 is too strong, meaning that the red blood cell is holding on to the oxygen. Therefore, reducing the blood cells' ability to deliver O2 to muscles, organs, and tissues. Which brings me to the whole point of this, we need the blood to release oxygen, not hold on to it. The idea of taking bigger breaths to take in more O2 is to tell an individual who is already eating enough food to provide their daily caloric needs that they need to eat more.
What is regulating our breathing?
Regulation of breathing refers to the amount and the rate of which we breathe, and it is often believed that O2 regulates our breathing. However, it's actually Carbon Dioxide(CO2) that regulates our breathing. We have receptors in our brain that monitor the concentration of CO2 and O2 in your blood, along with the PH level. When CO2 increased above a certain level or the blood is too acidic, these sensitivity receptors stimulate breathing to get rid of the excess gas. So the primary regulation of breathing is to eliminate excess CO2 from the body.
One of the main things about this article is for you to realize the importance of carbon dioxide and how important it is for oxygen delivery. Carbon dioxide is a waste product of the process of breaking down fats and carbohydrates we eat, and its typical value in the body range from 38 to 42 mmHg. CO2 has various roles in the human body; it regulates the pH of blood, the dilation of airways and blood vessels, influences the affinity hemoglobin has for oxygen, among other things.
Chronic over-breathing is the habit of breathing a volume of air greater than that which your body requires. Well, that's good, you might think. Unfortunately, that's not good at all. When we breathe more than what we require, too much carbon dioxide is exhaled from the lungs, hence, removed from the blood. Over time a biomechanical change will take place, lowering the tolerance for CO2. The lower tolerance for CO2 will stimulate breathing to get rid of the CO2 that is perceived to be in excess of the receptors programmed limits. Breathing in excess for short periods of time is not a problem as no permanent change occurs in the body. But it is when we breathe in excess that a biomechanical change takes place inside us that results in increased sensitivity in those receptors in our brain and therefore lower the tolerance to CO2. With this threshold being lower, breathing remains above normal as the receptors in the brain continually stimulate breathing in or to get rid of the CO2 that is perceived to be in excess of the receptors programmed limits. This is the reason why we have to control our breathing, so we don' breathe in excess and, therefore, can maximize the use of O2 in the body with the help of CO2.
Why is Carbon Dioxide so important?
CO2 is the doorway that lets O2 reach our muscles, and this can be explained with the Bohr Effect. The Bohr effect is a physiological phenomenon first described in 1904 by the Danish physiologist Christian Bohr, and it is how oxygen is released from hemoglobin and delivered to muscles, organs, and tissues. Hemoglobin releases O2 when in the presence of carbon dioxide, and when we over breathe, too much CO2 is washed from the lungs, blood, tissues, and cells resulting in the closing of the doorway for oxygen delivery. That is, hemoglobin is holding on to O2(also known as hypocapnia), resulting in reduced oxygen released and therefore reduced O2 delivery to the tissues and organs. Bohr himself says, "The CO2 pressure(PCO2) of the blood is to be regarded as an important factor in the inner respiratory metabolism. If one uses CO2 in appropriate amounts, the O2 that was taken up can be used more effectively throughout the body".
As any child is aware, our nose is made for breathing and the mouth for eating. We were born breathing through our nose, but as we grew older, it became ubiquitous to start breathing to our mouth instead. Breathing through our mouth initiates the fight and flight response, and with that, the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system can accelerate heart rate, decrease motility of the large intestine, constrict blood vessels, increase peristalsis in the esophagus, and raise blood pressure. Not only that, but mouth breathing leads to excessive breathing almost every time, and by now, we know that it is bad. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that excessive breathing reduced the diameter of blood vessels by 50%. So how can we fix excessive breathing? With Nasal breathing. The nasal cavity poses more than thirty functions. For example, it imposes more resistance to the airstream resulting in more O2 uptake, warms and humidifies incoming air, removes a significant amount of germs and bacteria, and is a source of an essential molecule; nitric oxide.
Run your tongue from the front of the roof of your mouth right back as far as it will go. That's the floor of the nasal cavity. Approx 30% is visible as the nose, while 70% is set deep within the skull. Everything in our body has an essential purpose, and the fact that the nasal cavity concludes such a large space in the skull shows the importance of it. But still, the nose is something that we don't think about as important.
It was first considered a toxic substance but won Molecule of the Year 1992 because it unites neuroscience, physiology, and immunology and revises scientists understanding of how cells communicate and defend themselves. Scientific findings show that this molecule is released in the nasal airways. During inspiration through the nose, this nitric oxide will follow the airstream to the lower airways and the lungs. Nitric oxide is crucial for humans because it plays essential roles in vasoregulation, i.e., the opening and closing of blood vessels, Homeostasis - the way in which the body maintains a state of stable physiological balance in order to stay alive, and neurotransmission - the communication system within the brain.
Nasal breathing can have a significant effect on your performance. By breathing through our nose, we can make sure to not lower the tolerance for CO2. Leading to better oxygen delivery to our muscles and therefore increased performance. Not only that, but it is possible to simulate high altitude training with nasal breathing as well, which will increase erythropoietin(EPO) production. EPO is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the kidney that stimulates the bone marrow to release more red blood cells into circulation. Stimulating high altitude training with the help of nasal breathing can lead to an increase in red blood cell count, increased Max VO2, and increased endurance potential.
Not only will better oxygen delivery enhance physical performance, but I will also aid in recovery. Given the muscles the oxygen it needs to repair and build the energy bonds used at a faster rate. If you can recover faster, you can train more. If you can train more, you can improve more... Note that I'm using the word 'can', there's a lot of other factors that play a role in increasing performance and recovery, such as nutrition and sleep, and they all have to be in line for optimal performance.
How to implement it
The easiest way to implement nasal breathing is to be conscious about it, think about it during everyday life activities, when you're driving, when you're working, when you're walking, and even when your training. ALWAYS try to breathe through your nose. To make sure that you breathe through your nose when you sleep, you can use tape over your mouth. Yes, tape your mouth shut... Not using duck tape but something like this. The tape will ensure that you're breathing through your nose while sleeping. It will be a bit uncomfortable at first, but you'll get used to it. There's plenty of breathing exercises that you can do, for example, the one we did at the begging of this article. For more breathing exercises and more science behind this topic, I recommend you to read this book.
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