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Is Canned Oxygen the Key to Post-Workout Recovery?

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Sometimes, after an especially intense workout, we’re sucking wind so hard that we feel like there’s not enough air in the world to satisfy our lungs. So when we first heard about Oxygen Plus (from $24; shop.oxygenplus.com)—think cans of hairspray, but filled with oxygen-enriched air (airspray?)—we thought it kind of made sense.

After all, oxygen helps fuel your muscles and your brain function. It follows that breathing in the extra O2 after a workout, or any time really, would promote healthy recovery after a workout, boost your energy, banish stress, or beat brain fog.

But according to Michael Freitas, M.D., a primary care sports medicine physician at UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Buffalo, NY, the research doesn’t quite back up the use of canned air. “There’s no data showing this kind of oxygen therapy is helpful,” he says. But he adds, “People think it is, and the placebo effect is very strong, so that alone can be enough to actually improve performance.”

One time he says breathing in extra O2 can help you is if you’re training at a higher altitude than normal, where the air is thinner. That said, “Most of these canisters only have about four liters of oxygen in them. At any given time, your lungs have about five liters of air in them, and you ventilate about half a liter per breath,” Freitas explains. And while many products like Oxygen Plus suggest inhaling just three to five breaths at a time, “if you’re really sucking in their air after a workout, you’d probably empty it in less than a minute.” (Fitness Tips to Conquer High-Altitude Workouts.)

But know this: “Regular deep breathing after exercise is beneficial,” says Freitas. After a sweat session, something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption occurs: Basically, your metabolism stays elevated and your body continues using up more O2 than normal for up to 16 hours. “Getting extra oxygen is a good thing, as it’ll decrease the oxygen deficit that can occur,” he says. “But I’m not sure a little can will offer much benefit to something that’s happening for such an extended period of time.” (See: Post-Workout Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making.)

The bottom line: If you’re curious, give canned oxygen a try. But if you want to save your money, start with regular deep-breathing exercises. You may find that there’s enough oxygen in the air around you after all. (Start with these 3 Breathing Techniques.) 

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