Gregor Konstantinović / Reading time: 4 min

The VO2max term is familiar to every endurance athlete - or at least they know that it must be as high as possible. This is the maximum oxygen consumption in the body, i.e., a kind of aerobic ability that the athlete can consume and is measured in volumetric units - the easiest in milliliters of oxygen per body weight (thus, we compare two individuals with different musculature). If we simplify, the highest VO2max is evidence of a healthy and trained integration of cardiovascular and musculature-neurological function. VO2max is not a linear measure in terms of "the faster we are cycling, the higher the consumption of oxygen" - that is VO2. VO2max is the point where an athlete can simply not process more oxygen (and, as a consequence, he/she needs to stop) during an incremental load test (where large muscle groups are involved).

VO2 depends on different factors, ranging from anaerobic physical practice (i.e. type of training or load) to age, sex and genetic factors. Naturally, the structure and construction of the body, which we can influence to a certain degree, is also important. The biochemical structure of our blood, plasma and various hormones is also influenced by the transfer of oxygen. Here, the situation is the most complex and, just for better understanding, we will list a few examples of why a headless "filing" with iron supplements is not the right way to increase VO2max. First, we need to mention the amount of iron in the blood, and with it also the amount of hemoglobin to which oxygen is bound. The thing with iron is - if you do not have enough of it, you will be breathless, listless, pale, and especially tired. However, if you have too much of it, it will accumulate in the liver causing life-threatening problems. Iron uptake is also affected by transferrin, which freely transmits iron to the organs, as well as the condition of our gastric mucosa, and in particular the observance of certain simple rules. We need to consume enough vitamins and minerals (A, B12, folic acid, C, zinc) and at the same time avoid certain factors that destroy our efforts. This is often seen in young athletes with low iron levels, which they can not fill up in any way. Minerals namely compete for the uptake of iron, and some are stronger than others - if, for example, when a spirulina is used for raising low iron levels, you take a hydration drink, the latter will "supplant" iron. It is also not advisable to consume two different sources of iron (for example, green leafy vegetables and meat at the same time) or to add sources of iron without the addition of vitamin C. To conclude, we can mention something that you would never have thought - a strenuous exercise (even overtraining) itself lowers iron levels in the blood or the ability of oxygen binding to the blood cells. The more we train, the faster we eliminate it from the body.

The second oxygen transfer promoter is erythropoietin (EPO), which is involved in the production of red blood cells in the body. It determines the density of blood or the percentage of red blood cells in the body - the more we have it, the denser the blood is, while at the same time the transfer of oxygen is higher. This is called hematocrit - we all want to have as high values of it as possible in a natural way. Dense blood does mean less heavy breathing in a 19% slope, but also a greater chance of clots formation. Therefore, athletes are engaged in natural ways of hematocrit level elevation (and hence increasing the size of erythrocytes), such as sleeping in an elevation tent (by gradually simulating high-mountain conditions with gradual reduction of oxygen).

Another option is the use of plant adaptogens - these are plants and mushrooms that grow in harsh conditions (height, frost) and produce active substances that have a benevolent effect on our organs, above all on the glands. They grow in the Manchurian mountains (Ginseng), Tibet (Cordyceps) and the Altai mountains (Rhodiola) - they were first used by the Sherpa, as they saw increased energy during the climbs of Everest. This energy was nothing more than an increased oxygen transfer and reduced cortisol stress hormone. If cortisol is unnecessarily increased, our athletic ability is truncated, which is first observed in decreased breathing capacity. While Cordyceps has proven to be excellent for increasing the lactate threshold, high-quality Rhodiola reduces inflammation (C-reactive protein), lactate and muscle damage - and is an excellent prevention against hypoxia (altitude sickness). In addition to anti-cancerous properties, Ginseng also increases blood flow, reduces inflammation and minimally elevated testosterone levels (by reducing stress).

Adaptogens are now populistically sold as a means of reducing adrenal exhaustion, however, you need to know two things - adaptogens only work at maximum efforts (after multi-week use) and only if they are produced under similar conditions as if they were harvested in nature. This means that if the root of ginseng grows in the soil for 5-7 years, it can not be cultivated within two months and sold for 2 € per kg. When purchasing an adaptogenic VO2 formula, it must be proven to be of good quality, because it is not a cheap extract precisely because of its long-term cultivation.

In the natural products for increasing the VO2max, there are also support elements that you would not even think about. Certain amino acids (e.g. beta-alanine) work indirectly when they recycle produced lactate into a source of energy, thereby reducing the body's load by removing lactate. Chromium (in the form of chelates) is involved in a glucose tolerance factor that regulates the level of insulin in the blood (everyone knows what happens when sugar falls). Coneflowers (Echinacea), which we often drink added in tea to fight the cold, is a plant that, according to research, increases the number of newly created erythrocytes (erythrogenesis) most effectively.

In the last article, we will stop our horses and look at our everyday life - what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong, and how we can retrieve at least pieces of what is missing in our fast-paced lifestyle.