Today we are under more stress than ever and yet taking our bodies to farther limits. As an athlete who does not rely on stimulants for an artificial boost in performance, I often employ other more natural modalities to support my body before, during and after exercise. One of my favourite discoveries has been the use of essential oils. It may surprise you to hear that the right oils can enhance physical performance, boost energy and even provide pain relief. For years I used only lavender and peppermint but as I learned more about oils I started adding in others to my tool kit. Here are my top picks:
While peppermint is one of the oldest go-tos for soothing digestion, there is a surprising link between peppermint oil and athletic performance. Using peppermint oil daily can help you to work harder longer.
- Improves respiratory function, dilates bronchioles and increases oxygen intake, for improved stamina and performance
- Increases pain tolerance and workload efforts
- Relieves aches and pains
- Decreases blood lactate levels, which elevate after strenuous exercise and can cause muscles soreness
- Improves mental clarity and concentration
- Relieves sore muscles (think Icy Hot without all the junk)
- Relieves nausea and indigestion (think pregame jitters)
- Directly affects the brains satiety center and reduces cravings, helping you keep that nutrition on point
--> Action Item: Pre-work out dilute a 2-3 drops peppermint EO in coconut or other carrier oil, rub palms together and rub on chest, then cup hands over face and inhale deeply. Inhale peppermint EO when uncontrollable food cravings hit.
Renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, these days Copaiba is getting a lot of buzz. However copaiba essential oil has been around for quite some time, 10 years with Young Living, and it has been used traditionally by natives for far longer. The copaiba tree is found deep in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest where it is tapped similar to a maple tree, the resin is then steam distilled.
- Has the most published research on anti-inflammatory effects, the main component of this oil is beta-caryophyllene, which is why cannabis (CBD) oil is getting all the hype these days. This oil registers BCP at 55%, the highest of any other oil including CBD.
- Natural pain relief, copaiba blocks the sensation of pain
- Protects the liver
- Powerful antioxidant
--> Action Item: Dilute and massage copaiba oil into muscles soon after a strenuous work out, to help prevent soreness. Or use at the onset of soreness.
Lemongrass is a woody fibrous grass originating in southeast Asia, and is often used in Thai cooking. Although lemongrass essential oil is traditionally used for digestion and purification, it is great for muscle relaxation as well.
- Relieves inflammation
- Improves circulation and promotes lymph flow
- This oil contains high level of the component citral, which has a warming effect, great for tired muscles
- Regenerates connective tissues, excellent for ligaments and joint issues
- Powerful antifungal properties, inhibits candida albicans
- Improves focus, clarity and relaxation
--> Action Item: Although there are numerous oils to help with fatigued muscles this is by far my favourite. It is especially good for stressed joint and ligaments. I often dilute and rub into my trick knee. It is great post injury as well.
In studies, the constituents of lavender have been shown to have both sedative and narcotic effects. Many pain relieving creams will contain lavender. It is also a great oil for encouraging restful sleep.
- Relaxes body and mind
- Promotes restful sleep, imperative for recovery
- Soothes aching muscles and regenerates tissues, speeding the healing of cuts, bruises, and burns, even sunburn
- Reduces appetite (along with grapefruit oil)
- Reduces mental stress and increases alertness
- Repels pesky bugs
--> Action Item: Diffuse lavender oil at night to promote a good nights’ sleep, especially when you have an event the next day. Put a few drops in coconut oil and rub on skin after a long day in the sun.
Traditionally the leaves of wintergreen were used by Native Americans to increase respiratory capacity during endurance running or difficult labor. It is a natural antioxidant and immune enhancer.
- Methyl Salicylate, the active constituent of wintergreen has strong soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, the synthetic version of this ingredient is used in NSAIDS like Ibuprofen
- Wintergreen oil has been incorporated into many musculoskeletal ointments and creams like Bengay and Icy Hot
- Absorbs quickly into skin and has a numbing effect
- Soothing properties make it ideal for massage
- Great for masking odors
- Naturally freshens breathes, so it is found in many toothpastes and mouthwashes
--> Action Item: I prefer this oil for tension headaches, or mix it with copaiba post-work out for those extra hard PR days. Place a drop of Wintergreen oil on a cotton ball and stick it in your gym bag to keep it fresh.
Helichrysum is part of the sunflower family and grows well in Mediterranean climates. A little bit earthy, a little bit herby this rare plant, often called by the name immortelle or everlasting flower, is an excellent multi tasker and a must have for anyone’s athletic tool kit.
- Promotes tissue repair
- Supports localized blow flow
- Promotes circulation
- Supports detoxification
- Regenerates nerves
- Revives dull dry skin, supports sagging skin
--> Action Item: This is the best oil to apply immediately after an injury, and on bumps and bruises.
Melrose is a blend of 4 anti-microbial oils, including tea tree oil which is known as nature’s first aid. It is great for any skin related issues.
- Antimicrobial and antiseptic, great for anything skin related, bumps, cuts, bruises, chafing, rashes...
- Regenerates damaged tissues
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Resolves blemishes quickly
- Stimulates circulation
--> Action Item: Apply Melrose to chafed areas or to broken palms after intense bar work.
Often training can stress the immune system. Eucalyptus is a powerful immune stimulator. Therefore, this evergreen plant is traditionally used for respiratory ailments and immune function.
- Immune stimulant
- Supports respiratory function
- Prevents inflammation and improves flexibility
- Keeps the body cool
- Wakes up the mind (think pre-game motivator)
--> Action Item: Diffuse eucalyptus, along with lavender, the night before a competition or endurance event. Inhale prior to work out.
Marjoram, known to the Romans as the “herb of happiness”, was believed to increase longevity. A cousin of oregano, it is often used in stews and sauces.
- Muscle soothing properties relieve achy bones and joints
- Helps with muscle spasms
- Very useful for nerve related pain
- Vasodilator, increases blood flow
- Promotes sweating, and therefore detoxification
- Helps support balanced blood sugar
--> Action Item: When fatigued, dissolve marjoram and copaiba into some Epsom salts and use as a bath soak before bed.
Lemons are known for their bright fresh scent and conjuring images of summer time and poolside lemonade. You can harness the smell of lemon to elevate mood before a big event.
- Stimulates nervous system performance
- Aids in detoxification
- Elevates mood
- Helps prevent and relieve fungal infections
- Brightens and rejuvenates dull skin
- Boosts Immunity
--> Action Item: Diffuse or inhale to elevate mood on those days when you just are not “feelin’ it”. Dilute and apply to any areas with fungal infection.
Caution: do not apply citrus oils before sun exposure, they can make some people more photosensitive
- Arnica, while not an essential oil, is great for tissue repair apply to overworked muscles and those nagging injuries.
- Thuja oil is great for fungal issues.
- Aroma Siez is blend of anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxing oils best used for injury, fatigued muscles or headaches.
- Black pepper oil is a powerful warming agent useful for sore muscles. It also soothes anxious feelings.
- Ningxia Nitro is mixture of green tea, B vitamins and essential oils and is great to use when a burst of energy is needed. This is a wonderful clean substitute for those awful energy shots, which are full of ingredients detrimental to health. Nitro is perfect for competition day, marathon racing, or extra-long hikes. Use in place of a gel. It really works.
- Ortho Sport Massage Oil is a mixture of oils with a higher phenol, a powerful antioxidant, content blended into a carrier oil for easy application. It has a great warming effect and provides instant relief to tired muscles.
- Deep Relief roll on is an exclusive blend of Peppermint, Wintergreen, Copaiba, Helichrysum, Clove, Fir and Palo Santo. It has all the oils that are great for athletic performance packed into one convenient roller. It’s great for headaches too.
- Breath Again roll on contains 4 types of eucalyptus, copaiba and peppermint along with several other oils shown to support respiratory function.
- Thieves Cleaner is a great substitute for toxic cleaners to tidy up gym equipment or to spray smelly gym shoes.
Note: Essential oils are very powerful and can be used in excess. When applying topically it is always best practice to dilute a few drops into a carrier oil such as coconut or almond oil. Not only is this for safety, in fact many oils are more effective when used in dilution. Do not ingest without the guidance of a professional.
As you can see essential oils have many properties that are useful to athletic performance and recovery. They are particularly helpful when recovering from injury. Furthermore, each oil has multiple uses that often overlap one another so you don’t have to break the bank stocking up. As I mentioned previously, I used just peppermint and lavender for a long time before branching out. Although, I do think I am now officially an oil junkie! I hoard them ya’ll. Whether you get one oil or a few I think you will find you can great results by adding essential oils to your athletic regimen.
Not all oils are created equal. There are several good oils brands out there just make sure you research and choose a good source. Hint: It usually isn't at your grocery or local health food store. If you know an oil distributor already, support them 🙂 If not and Young Living Essential Oils interest you then you can order or grab a starter kit through me here. Or, check out my essentials 101 class on facebook.
Are you an athlete? Have you used essential oils to improve your performance? If so let us know which ones are your favourites in the comments.
- Prolonged bouts of exercise and heavy training are associated with depression of the immune system
- Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review
- Can Peppermint Help Improve Athletic Performance?
- Use These Essential Oil Tips To Heal Common Runner Ailments
- Essential Oils Pocket Reference, Life Science Publishing
- Aromatherapy: A Lifetime Guide to Healing with Essential Oils, Valerie Gennari Cooksley
- The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils, Kurt Schnaubelt, PhD
- The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood
- Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals, Robert Tisserand
- Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple, David Stewart
- Essential Oils do not cure or treat disease. They only help to support wellness. The information contained in this article is not a substitute for the advice and guidance of healthcare professionals.
- I do have affiliate links in this post. If you buy oils from this page I will receive small monetary compensation. It will support this blog. However, I personally use and love YL oils and recommend oils based on merit not profit. Please research and use the oily sources that makes you happy 🙂
- Be safe with your oils, dilute and please don't drink them all the day long.