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Dr Mark Waldron and Dr Owen Jeffries, of the Exercise Physiology Research Cluster at St Mary’s University, have led a programme of research investigating novel strategies that help athletes to stay cool and improve performance in hot environments. The use of menthol, a plant compound associated with mouth washes and shower gels, has been one area of investigation. 

The use of menthol has recently grown in popularity among endurance athletes who are exercising in hot countries. Menthol can be rinsed in the mouth at low concentrations or applied in higher concentrations to the skin’s surface via a cream. Here, menthol acts on receptors that relay cold signals to the brain. This can make athletes feel cooler and prevent them from stopping early due to the mixture of intense exercise and hot weather.   

The Cluster’s original research has demonstrated that rinsing your mouth with a 0.01% menthol solution can reduce athletes’ perception of the heat and increase their ability to perform in 33 °C heat by up to 10%. In a recent study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, it was found that only a single mouth rinse during the later parts of a time to exhaustion trial made the athletes feel cooler and go for 6% longer. This type of improvement might not seem significant to some athletes but this could be the difference between 1stor 10th place at the elite level. In their most recent article, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Dr Jeffries and Dr Waldron reviewed all of the research on this topic, revealing that mouth rinsing with menthol is more effective than external application of menthol cream in reducing the perception of the heat and increasing endurance performance. 

Further work is currently being undertaken by research students at St Mary’s in this area and will be updated in this blog.