Essential oils are the highly concentrated oils found naturally occurring in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. Most pure and therapeutic grade essential oils are extracted from plants through either steam distillation or a process called expression (cold pressing). Depending on the type and part of plant being used, one method is typically preferred over the other, so both steam distillation and cold pressing are the ideal methods to look for when shopping for an essential oil.
It is important to note that other methods exists, include using solvents and chemically manufacturing a synthetic version of and essential oil, but it is recommended to avoid oils produced by other methods as the benefits are not the same. Synthetic oils have little benefit at all- they simply have a scent profile similar to that of the authentic essential oil. In addition, many aromatherapists have expressed concern over traces of chemical solvents remaining in the oils produced by solvents that can then be released into the air and/or absorbed into the skin. Although these traced are below the legal limits allowed by U.S. law, not all essential oil products are tested and many imported do not have the same regulations governing production in their own country. These solvent chemicals are typically benzene, hexane, or chlorure of methylene, and are considered “toxic”.
There are a number of ways to use pure and therapeutic grade essential oils to enhance your workout session[i]. I’ve included safety guidelines at the end of this article, so please be sure to read those prior to use. Two of the most common ways I discuss in this article and others I write are using the essential oils in topical applications and using them in diffusers. I do not recommend ingesting the pure essential oil unless it is in a capsule form and you’ve discussed the ingredients with your medical doctor. Although a number of practitioners (and even the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition in this study[ii]) provide recipes for internal use, I do not recommend this. Many of these recipes include adding a few drops of a particular essential oil to water or teas that you then drink. I do not recommend doing this as it is considered unsafe by most in the medical profession and by reputable manufacturers of product and foods using essential oils. Oils do not dissolve in water, so this is not a safe way to dilute the oil. Manufacturers of reputable organic teas use the actual part of the plant in their teas, not the essential oil. For example, Traditional Medicinals® organic peppermint tea is made from organic peppermint leaf, not peppermint essential oil.
The three oils that seem to have the greatest benefit on your workout if diffused in a diffuser during your workout are Peppermint*, Lemon*, and Eucalyptus* and I frequently use all three during training sessions I conduct with my own clients. If you aren’t able to diffuse the oils in a diffuser during your workout by putting in 2-3 drops into your diffuser’s water holder, sprinkling a few drops of the oil on a tissue and then inhaling them at the start of your workout is a good substitute.
*Please see safety guidelines at the bottom of this article and check out my other article in this series here on using essential oils when pregnant or around children.
Peppermint Essential Oil
When diffused or inhaled, peppermint oil works as both an anti-inflammatory, expectorant, and decongestant for your upper respiratory system. This supports good airflow during your workout. Peppermint oil also has an invigorating scent and numerous anecdotal accounts suggests it improves athletic performance by decreasing perceived effort and fatigue when inhaled during exercise.
Lemon Essential Oil
When diffused or inhaled, lemon essential oil can also clear the nasal passages and sinuses. It has also been shown to have anti-depressant effects, great for uplifting your mood at the start of a workout after a long and stressful day. It is frequently used as an air purifier when diffused because of its cleansing and deodorizing characteristics.
Lemon essential oil also has numerous antibacterial and antifungal properties when used as a surface cleaner. This cheap and simple do it yourself spray cleaner recipe can be used to wipe down your yoga mat and other items before storing them in your gym bag:
Mix in a small spray bottle ½ cup distilled water, ½ cup distilled white vinegar, 10 drops of lemon essential oil and 10 drops of tea tree essential oil to start and then shake well. I add more lemon essential oil until I like the smell, so feel free to add more lemon essential oil to this spray cleaner recipe. If you are not into do it yourself recipes, this spray cleaner called Master Blaster from Purehaven Essentials that utilizes organic lemon essential oil is a great alternative and an effective deodorizer when sprayed in your sneakers and other workout paraphernalia like wrist wraps and knee wraps.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Eucalyptus Globules is one of the world's most used essential oils and it is widely noted that it helps with respiratory problems when diffused as it has many anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
This study, done in 2010 and published in the Alternative Medicine Review [iii], stated that "Eucalyptus oil (EO) and its major component, 1,8-cineole, have antimicrobial effects against many bacteria...viruses, and fungi." And that, "...surprisingly for an antimicrobial substance, there are also immune-stimulatory, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, and spasmolytic effects."
The study recommended that vapor inhalation, such as through a diffuser was an effective way to relieve congestion.
Eucalyptus essential oil is also effective in relieving aching muscles and joints from occasional overuse so it is frequently found in post workout salt soaks such as this one and post shower body creams such as this one.
If you are looking for a source to purchase high quality USDA certified organic essential oils, all 3 essential oils above can be purchased through Purehaven Essentials.
*Safety Guidelines When Using Essential Oils
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy has put together general safety guidelines for using essential oils, including during pregnancy and around children. These guidelines can be found here: https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety . The International Association of Professional Aromatherapists has also put together pregnancy safety guidelines that can be found here: https://naha.org/assets/uploads/PregnancyGuidelines-Oct11.pdf The Herbal Academy has also put together general safety guidelines for using essential oils around children and these guidelines can be found here: https://theherbalacademy.com/using-essential-oils-for-children/
General Safety guidelines for essential oils: Keep all essential oils out of the reach of children. If pregnant or nursing or taking medication, or under a health provider’s care, consult your doctor before using any essential oil. Do not use undiluted essential oils on the skin. Undiluted oils can have an adverse reaction when in direct contact with skin. Mix 3 drops for every 1 oz. of carrier oil on skin. Always test your skin’s sensitivity to any diluted essential oil before using. Most essential oils are not recommended for babies, children or pets. Avoid contact with eyes. Wash hands after using essential oils. This information is for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated or approved by the FDA. It is not intended to prescribe, treat, cure, prevent or, diagnose any disease or condition.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the author nor web site publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Cori DiDonato, C.S.C.S., NSCA-CPT is the owner of CrossFit Silver Tiger and Silver Tiger Consulting as well as a Purehaven Essentials Independent Consultant. For more health and wellness articles by Cori DiDonato, please visit: http://www.corididonato.com/library.php
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