Mint contains a naturally occurring compound called Menthol, which activates cold receptors in the mouth and airways creating a sensation of coolness. This sensation of coolness has recently been proven to provide an "ergogenic" (or performance-enhancing) aid to runners, cyclists and endurance athletes in hot temperatures. So as things start to heat up, don't forget to pack your sun cream but also a drop of Mint as a way to maintain performance and safety.
How does mint help with performance in the heat?
In a paper published in 2020, Sports Dietitians of Australia recommend beverages with menthol to athletes looking to perform their best in the heat. Katie Kissane, M.S., R.D., founder of Fuel 2 Run says: "based on the research, the evidence suggests that consuming a mint Energy Gel or as part of a drink or sports nutrition beverage may help improve performance and can provide a cooling sensation which could be beneficial when training in the heat, as a means to improve heat tolerance"
Researchers who published a study in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS One in 2014, investigated whether the temperature of a beverage or the flavor of the beverage had effects on performance in the heat. Twelve trained male cyclists/triathletes performed six 20-kilometer time trials in a tropical environment (87 degrees Fahrenheit and 78 percent humidity). Before and during each time trial, the participants drank either an ice slushy with menthol, an ice slushy without menthol, just below room temperature water with menthol, or just below room temperature water without menthol.
Most Kendal Mint Co products contain Menthol concentrations of 0.0315mg / 70g serve.Kendal Mint Co®
The results of using Mint during exercise in hot temperatures
Researchers found that the participants performed best with an ice slushy with menthol, and that an ice slushy without menthol was better than the beverage served at neutral temperature with menthol. They attributed these positive effects to the cooling sensation of menthol and cold beverages.
Interestingly, there were no differences in heart rate or core temperature between the neutral temperature or cold beverage tests. This shows that the sensory effect of the menthol and cold temperature may be what enhances performance, rather than the cold beverage actually cooling down the body. So while menthol and mint-flavored foods and sports nutrition products may not be doing anything physiologically to improve performance, the sensation of feeling cool may be enough to keep you going strong.
Drinking cold beverages that contain menthol during a ride or even swishing around a minty beverage may improve performance by reducing perceived exertion, making rides feel easier while maintaining the same effort. The proposed mechanisms of action for menthol beverages on performance include improved feeling of thermal comfort, reduced restriction of breathing during exercise (athletes have an easier time breathing during high exertion), and stimulating mental alertness. Studies show the use of commercially available products, such as sports drinks and energy gels to be effective for improving performance in the heat.
How much Mint should I consume?
Before you go and try to make your own menthol beverage, know that there is a risk of ingesting too much menthol at one time. Side effects can include burning, irritation, and pain in the mouth and esophagus.
For this reason, The Sports Dietitians of Australia recommend using commercially available products such as those from Kendal Mint Co rather than trying to make your own menthol beverage.
It's important to remember with mint-flavored sports drinks that athletes still need to take on adequate fuel and hydration, in the form of Fluids, Carbohydrates and Electrolytes, required to perform their best.
The 130 years old, top secret blend of peppermint oil is still used in our recipe today!Kendal Mint Co®
Where can I find mint based hydration products?
When shopping for menthol/mint beverages to drink during exercise, just make sure the product has those electrolytes (and some carbohydrates if you're riding for over an hour).
The positive effects of menthol do not negate the need for replacing electrolytes lost from sweat during hot rides. Products such as mint-flavoured water may be enjoyable before or after exercise, but will not be as effective for meeting hydration needs as something like Kendal Mint Co ISO MIX Isotonic Energy Drink Mix, Refreshing Citrus & Mint Flavour, which contains 34 grams of carbohydrate per serving and 144mg of sodium, 19mg Calcium, 17mg Magnesium and 6mg Potassium, to keep you fueled during your performance.
To maximize the benefits of the cooling effects of menthol, drink 250ml of the menthol beverage at a cold temperature every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.