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How Athletes Can Use the Bohr Effect to Boost Their Endurance

How Athletes Can Use the Bohr Effect to Boost Their Endurance

  • 6 min read

Let’s talk about human respiration. In its simplest form, the respiratory system takes in oxygen, delivers it to the bodily tissues that need it, and then gets rid of carbon dioxide. Since carbon dioxide is a byproduct of respiration, it is predominantly thought of as a waste gas. But that’s not its only purpose. The Bohr Effect demonstrates how athletes can leverage carbon dioxide to boost their endurance.

Bohr effect breathing

Quick Flashback to Biology Class: Human Respiration

To understand how CO2 can work to our advantage via the Bohr Effect, we need a more detailed understanding of respiration. Let’s dive in.

When air is inhaled, it passes through the lungs to the bronchial tubes and from there to the alveoli. These alveoli are tiny air sacs in the lungs that allow gases to be exchanged through tiny tubes called capillaries. After passing  through the capillaries, oxygen molecules are grabbed by the hemoglobin molecules within red blood cells, thus oxygenating the blood. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the entire body, and this is fundamental to the Bohr Effect. Oxygenated blood then travels from the lungs through the left side of the heart to the rest of the body.

Carbon dioxide moves the opposite way. It is created as a byproduct of cellular respiration, where glucose and oxygen are converted into ATP (energy), water, and carbon dioxide. Red blood cells then transport the CO2 from throughout the body back to the alveoli, where it can then exit through lungs. 

Now that we’ve refreshed our understanding of respiration, let’s understand how the Bohr Effect works.

Bohr Effect endurance

What is The Bohr Effect?

At any given time, blood oxygen levels are around 95-99% in a healthy human. However, there is a key difference between the blood oxygen  levelsand our ability to deliver this oxygen in our cells, also known as oxygenation. Just because we have ample oxygen stores doesn’t mean that all of it gets delivered to our cells. That is where the Bohr Effect comes in.

Back in 1904, a Danish biochemist named Christian Bohr made an eye-opening discovery: The lower the partial pressure of carbon dioxide is in arterial blood, the greater the affinity is of hemoglobin for the oxygen it carries. More simply, an increase in CO2 concentration decreases the blood’s pH, which in turn leads to hemoglobin proteins releasing the oxygen they carry. Even more simply, more CO2 in the body allows oxygen to be delivered more efficiently.

The Bohr Effect: The lower the partial pressure of CO2 in arterial blood, the lower the amount of oxygen hemoglobin will release to cells for energy.

When carbon dioxide is dissolved in the blood, carbonic acid is formed. This is what Bohr refers to that makes the blood acidic, or low in pH. The structure of hemoglobin changes as a result, making it harder for it to bind to oxygen, or, in other words, making it easier for oxygen to be released.

The Bohr Effect During Physical Activity

When we exercise, our demand for oxygen in the body rises. Our cellular respiration rate increases, boosting the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood, especially around highly respiring tissues i.e. the muscles you are using. This increases the CO2 concentration in the active areas, allowing for increased oxygen delivery to the cells that need it most. As a result, the Bohr Effect allows for humans to unload oxygen in an enhanced way. Once the body unloads bound oxygen by hemoglobin that is passing through metabolically active tissues, oxygen delivery improves. As more metabolism occurs throughout the body, the carbon dioxide partial pressure rises even further. This causes local pH to become even lower and for a larger amount of oxygen to be unloaded. 

Bohr Effect Fitness

Using the Bohr Effect to Your Advantage

While the Bohr Effect naturally allows us to perform during periods of physical activity, we can actually use it to our advantage to further improve our aerobic fitness, also known as our aerobic endurance. This means that we can use the Bohr Effect to help us run, bike, and swim faster than before, for longer periods of time, with less effort.

So how do we do this? Well, quite simply, if we can increase our body’s CO2 tolerance, we can increase our aerobic endurance.By increasing our body’s CO2 tolerance, we will in turn have more CO2 in our body during periods of both rest and physical exertion. This means that our body will be able to oxygenate its cells more efficiently, leading to less strain on our respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Here’s how that translates into better fitness:

  1. Increasing your CO2 tolerance leads to higher CO2 levels in your body.
  2. Higher CO2 levels means more efficient oxygenation.
  3. More efficient oxygenation means less blood is required to meet the oxygen demands of your body during physical exertion.
  4. The decreased blood requirement translates into a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure.
  5. Lower heart rate and blood pressure means that you can maintain the same level of exercise for longer, with less effort.

So the question becomes “How do we naturally, and safely, increase our CO2 tolerance?” Thankfully, the answer is simple.

Bohr Effect Fitness

Swap Out Mouth Breathing for Nose Breathing

That’s right. The simplest and most effective way to increase your CO2 tolerance and reap the performance benefits of the Bohr Effect is to stop breathing through your mouth. Mouth breathing is actually overbreathing, meaning that you are inhaling and exhaling too much air. This causes the body to get rid of too much carbon dioxide with each breath, meaning that oxygen cannot be delivered at an effective rate. This also decreases your body’s ability to tolerate carbon dioxide, making it harder to reach a solid oxygenation rate in the future. As a result, this leads to increased breathlessness and poor oxygen delivery. 

With nasal breathing, there is a smaller volume of air and a longer point of time between each breath. This gives the lungs time to hold on to carbon dioxide, deliver oxygen where it needs to go, take care of hemoglobin, and fill up to capacity before the next breath. This allows the body to benefit from The Bohr Effect, lowering your heart rate and improving performance during exercise. 

Bohr Effect Fitness

The Additional Benefits of Nose Breathing 

On top of the Bohr Effect, nose breathing has a massive amount of health benefits, no matter what we’re doing throughout the day. Whether you’re resting, sleeping, or pushing it hard at the gym, nasal breathing provides just the right amount of resistance to boost oxygenation in the body. 

Maintain Homeostasis During Rest

As we have discussed, nose breathing regulates levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. We maintain a balance of the two by inhaling oxygen, absorbing it in the lungs, and exhaling carbon dioxide. When we mouth breathe, too much carbon dioxide is expelled thanks to the larger breaths and higher breathing rate. The lungs don’t have time to absorb as much of the oxygen, so the breathing rate rises. This leads to hyperventilation, lightheadedness, and a decrease in homeostasis. By nose breathing, we can regulate the exchange of oxygen by breathing at a relaxed rate. During rest, this helps to maintain homeostasis rather than wreak havoc on it. Not to mention, nitric oxide is produced during nasal breathing, which takes stress levels down, lowers heart rate, and boosts cognitive function. 

Decongest During Sleep

Chronic mouth breathing can lead to a sore throat, dry mouth, and nasal congestion. Since mouth breathing dries out the mouth by causing saliva to evaporate, we experience discomfort and even dehydration. If you wake up in the morning with chronic dry mouth, you probably mouth breathe in your sleep. If you’re often congested in the morning, it’s likely due to mouth breathing as well. Most people think that mouth breathing is caused by a congested nose, but the opposite is true: mouth breathing can cause a stuffy nose when we mouth breathe at night, as it makes us overproduce mucus, clogging our sinuses. This leads to a chain reaction that can cause heart issues, dental problems, snoring, and even sleep apnea. 

Boost Performance and Recover Faster After Workouts

When you breathe through the nose during a workout, you can help to coax your body into a faster rate of recovery. Since nasal breathing helps the body operate more efficiently, your heart rate eventually syncs up to the rhythm of your breath. This tells the body and brain that you’re ready to slow down and relax back into rest mode by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. As a result, blood pressure decreases, along with stress levels, and your body will exit fight or flight mode. This leads to quicker recovery times after you’ve been physically active. Nasal breathing also boosts your performance during exercise. Many of us overbreathe and hyperventilate while working out, so nasal breathing during physical activity can be hard to get used to. Once you do, your performance will rise thanks to increased endurance caused by the Bohr Effect. 

Bohr Effect endurance

Nasal Breathing Doesn’t Have to Be Bohring

Now that you know how The Bohr Effect helps boost athletic performance, you’re probably eager to get started. But sometimes it’s trickier than making sure you’re breathing through the nose, especially if you’re a chronic mouth breather having a hard time breaking the habit. That’s where mouth tape comes in. SomniFix Strips are specially designed to inhibit mouth breathing and promote nose breathing during sleep. In turn, this increases your CO2 tolerance, rebalances oxygen levels, and boosts performance during periods of physical activity. Give them a try tonight risk-free and take your performance to new heights!

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