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VO2 Max: Increase Endurance Capacity

Author:Britt Maughan R.D.
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VO2 Max

When assessing your abilities as an athlete, VO2 max can offer some insight into your cardiorespiratory abilities (aka the heart and the lungs) and help you determine your maximum oxygen uptake. Simply defined, VO2 max is the highest rate at which you can transport oxygen to your muscles. More oxygen means more energy created in the form of ATP. This is key for exercise because increased physical activity requires more energy, which means more oxygen is needed to produce the energy required.
Benefits of increasing your VO2 max 
Increased oxygen delivery to working muscles
Increased endurance
Reduced fatigue
Improved blood pressure and lowered resting heart rate
Improved cardiac output and respiratory efficiency 
Increased amount of hemoglobin in your red blood cells 
Higher VO2 max has been linked to a lower incidence of heart disease, cancer, dementia, depression and type 2 diabetes 

How is it measured?

VO2 max is measured as milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). The gold standard for measuring VO2 max is a treadmill test in which you breathe into an oxygen mask where your oxygen and carbon dioxide concentration of inhaled and exhaled air is recorded. There are other equations that can help you determine your VO2 based on variables such as age, heart rate, gender, sex, waist circumference, and body weight. 

What do the numbers mean?

While numbers aren’t everything, they are helpful in setting training goals and giving you an idea of where you compare to other athletes in your sport. When looking at your numbers, keep in mind that genetics and other variables (such as age, height, weight, metabolism, and sex) affect your VO2 max. 

Some examples of VO2 values based on the general population include: Male age 20-29 at 45-55 ml/kg/min, Male age 30-39 at 45-50 ml/kg/min, Female age 20-29 at 37-41 ml/kg/min, and Female age 30-39 at 35-40 ml/kg/min. These are all considered excellent values – but again, are based on the general population (not just athletes). For elite athletes, numbers are significantly higher, for example, pro male cyclists and runners can range from 69-90 ml/kg/min and pro female runners and cyclists can range from 60-75 ml/kg/min. 

How to increase your VO2 max

The most effective way to increase your VO2 max is through aerobic training. While strength training has numerous benefits for the athlete, it has little effect on improving VO2 max values alone. The greatest percentage change in VO2 max will be seen with sedentary individuals who begin a consistent aerobic exercise program. Conversely, the fitter you are, the less gains you will see when trying to increase your VO2 max. Percent increase in VO2 max ranges from roughly 5-30% (and again, is based on many factors – such as your starting values and physical activity).  

While training is the most effective way to increase VO2 max, supplements can help increase oxygen delivery during training and events to help with performance and recovery, and may help you increase your VO2 max scores. Many of these supplements contain ingredients designed to deliver such results as increased blood flow, improved aerobic power, increased endurance, increased energy, and reduced muscle burn and fatigue. See the list below for a breakdown of each ingredient and supplement examples that we carry at FTM. 

Ashwagandha: A root traditionally used in India as a general tonic and ''adaptogen''. It offers antioxidant properties, supports a healthy immune system, and is used by athletes to help improve cardiorespiratory endurance, increase power output and reduce time to fatigue. Research has shown that using this root can help increase VO2 max values. Examples of products that use this root include Mdrive Workforce, Mdrive Elite, and Mdrive Boost & Burn.

ATP : Adensoine triphosphate is known as the major source of cellular energy. It’s a part of many processes including cardiac function, muscle contraction and blood flow. ATP causes vasodilation (blood vessels become wider) and increases blood flow to the muscles – this in turn assists in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells and tissues in the body. ATP increases energy, increases blood flow, can help increase lean body mass, total body strength and power. Examples of products that feature ATP include Klean Athlete’s BCAA + ATP, OptygenHP, and Hammer Nutrition’s Fully Charged. 

Beta-Alanine : This amino acid benefits both strength and cardiovascular performance and has been shown to improve muscle endurance, reduce lactic acid burn, and increase muscle recovery. Beta-alanine also serves as a precursor for carnosine which helps buffer acidity and fights the ‘’burn’’ to help you work longer and harder. Examples of products that include beta-alanine in their formulation include Beta Red Pre-Workout Performance Formula, Hammer Nutrition’s Fully Charged, CARBOPRO's VO2 Max Endurance, OptygenHP, Proven Nutrition's BETA, and SFH PUSH. 

Beta Vulgaris (Beet Root): This is known to have a high nitrate content which converts to nitric oxide. This is found to help with vascular relaxation which increases the size of blood vessels and allows more oxygen to flow. Examples of products that contain this ingredient include Beta Red Pre-Workout Performance Formula and Hammer Nutrition’s Fully Charged.

Citrulline Malate: This non-essential amino acid has been found to increase blood flow, lower blood pressure, decrease training fatigue, and improve muscle recovery. This happens in the body when citrulline is converted to arginine in the kidneys. From here, arginine is used to produce nitric oxide which relaxes the blood vessels and increases blood flow. Examples of products that feature Citrulline Malate include Proven Nutrition’s CITRULLINE and CORE, CARBOPRO's VO2 Max Endurance, SFH PUSH and Beta Red.

Cordyceps: A fungus that has shown to enhance blood supply to the body, increasing blood supply to the brain and heart helping the body better deal with stress. Cordyceps dilate the bronchioles which allow a person to breathe more efficiently and helps reduce inflammation in the lungs. Research has shown that using cordyceps can help athletes tolerate a lack of oxygen and acidosis (the build of up CO2). Examples of products that use cordyceps include CARBOPRO's VO2 Max Endurance, Mdrive Elite, OptygenHP, and Dragon Herbs Cordyceps and Tonic Alchemy.

Taurine: Amino acid that is found throughout the body, namely in muscle and nerve tissue that assists in heartbeat and muscle contractions. It has many functions and is known to help increase VO2 max and time to exhaustion. It also possesses antioxidant properties that help enhance circulation and accelerate recovery. A great example is Hammer Nutrition’s Fully Charged which features 500mg of Taurine in each serving. 

Vinpocetine: An alkaloid found in the periwinkle plant, vinpocetine can help dilate blood vessels, enhance circulation in the brain, and improve oxygen utilization. An example of a product featuring this ingredient in their formulation is Hammer Nutrition’s Super Antioxidant. 

Bottom Line:
VO2 can be a helpful tool to assess your aerobic capacity. While the number doesn’t mean everything – it’s a good starting point in creating a strategic training plan that targets specific performance goals. In addition to a strong aerobic training program, supplements that help target increased oxygen delivery, increased energy, and delayed muscle fatigue will help you go longer and harder and may help increase your VO2 max values. Regardless of your numbers, everyone can benefit from these supplements during aerobic events that require more energy and increased endurance.

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