Do Nasal Strips Improve Performance?

Jun 20, 2014
Outside Magazine

So do nasal strips work the same on two and four-legged athletes?    Photo: 139th Preakness Stakes/Wikimedia


Studies and experts suggest that nasal strips like Breathe Right don’t improve athletic performance in adults in any measure—no improved VO2 max, ventilation, maximal work rate, lactate threshold, or lowered ratings of perceived exertion. And it appears the same goes for horses.

“Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance,” Dr. Scott Palmer, equine medical director for the New York State Gaming Commission, told the New York Times.

Of course this whole nasal strip debate came up after underhorse California Chrome won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness wearing one. When it looked like California Chrome wouldn’t be allowed to wear the thing at Belmont Stakes—where he’d become the first horse in 36 years to nab the prestigious Triple Crown, if he won—the merits of nasal strips became a national topic of conversation. Researchers, however, were already writing the strips off 16 years ago. “Breathe Right nasal strips are ineffective in enhancing performance,” they wrote in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

The only people for whom nasal strips might provide some sort of advantage: adolescents. In a Brazilian study published last year, researchers concluded that nasal strips improve maximal oxygen uptake after submaximal exercise in athletes between the ages of 11 and 15.

So why would an adult athlete wear one? There’s a lot to be said for the mental side of sports. If an athlete’s been stripping his schnoz since the 49ers’ Jerry Rice declared Breathe Right helped him recover faster and ward off fatigue, why stop now? If he believes a strip makes him better, it just might. He could use it to put on his game face, without any known performance-harming side effects.

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