Hemoglobin carries Oxygen
Breathing correctly is important to the oxygen (O2) transfer from our blood to our muscles and organs. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs
The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen. The O2 saturation (SpO2) in the blood of a healthy individual, which is the % of the hemoglobin that is carrying O2, is between 95 and 99%. Of importance to athletes and active individuals, is how the oxygen attaches and detaches itself from the hemoglobin that is transporting it through the body as we exercise. Endurance athletes rely heavily on oxygen to release the energy of the fat reserves in the body and therefore the more efficient the O2 transfer to the muscle, the better the athlete can harness that energy.
During inhalation, the O2 molecule attaches itself to the hemoglobin in the red blood cells in the alveoli of the lungs. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is considered the waste product of metabolsim and is carried by the hemoglobin back to the lungs to be exhaled. The trigger to breathe however is the individual’s sensitivity to CO2 and not because they have run out of O2 as the blood is adequately saturated.
Simply put, CO2 is required for the transfer of O2 from the blood to the muscle. The CO2 causes the blood to become more acidic and in this state dumps O2 into the bloodstream. If there is too little CO2 in the blood, the hemoglobin hangs onto the O2. This is known as the BOHR effect. To maximize the O2 uptake by muscles and organs, we need to better tolerate CO2.
In modern day living, stress has had a fundamental influence on our breathing. The more stressed we become the more we breathe and most often through our mouth. Over breathing causes additional loss of CO2. Hyperventilation is treated by placing a paper bag over the nose and mouth to inhale CO2 and so balance the CO2 levels in lungs and blood.
Quiet, restful breathing during moderate exercise and daily activity is adequate to replenish the O2 lost during the metabolic and exercise process. Exhaling through the nose rather than through the mouth, also restricts the loss of CO2. Nasal breathing draws the inhaled air deeper into the lungs reaching the larger blood volume in the lower lobes of the lungs causing better oxygenation of the blood with each breath.
The first step to better O2 uptake is nasal breathing. As the athlete progresses with this change, additional hypoxic (without O2) exercises can be introduced to further improve the tolerance to CO2 and improve the O2 transfer. High altitude training can be simulated at sea level by using Oxygenadvantage breathing exercises and thereby increasing the red blood cell count (hematocrit) to further enhance the O2 carrying capacity of the athlete. This is a natural and safe way to improve performance when monitored using a pulse oximeter.