Can "super-oxygenated" water make people run faster? Yes - if they think it can.
The water, marketed under different brands, is marketed as having more oxygen content than regular tap water and, thus, the ability to enhance athletic performance - claims that have been debunked by scientists who consider it no more than nicely packaged snake oil.
In a new study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse showed a video about the water's purported benefits to 32 male and female test subjects, all competitive or recreational runners. Then, half the runners drank commercial bottled water, while the other half got tap water that they believed was the "super-oxygenated" water. Afterward, all ran 5 kilometers on an indoor track. The groups switched test conditions and ran again.
During the trials, men and women who drank tap water ran an average of 83 seconds faster, about 3.3 seconds faster per lap. Slower runners who ran the 5K in more than 20 minutes in the control run shaved their time by an average of 2 minutes, 22 seconds during their tap-water run. "This is huge," says John Porcari, one of the researchers and a professor in exercise and sports science at the university. "The results were more dramatic than we'd hoped."
Also surprising was the fact that despite the faster times, the runners' heart rates, rates of perceived exertion and blood lactate levels remained almost the same between the two groups. The reason, Porcari speculates, may be because "they were feeling better and not as physically stressed."
The overall results, he adds, points out the mind's power to push the body: "There's no physiology for this [water] to work unless humans grow gills. But this ergogenic aid market is exploding, and if people think something works and is beneficial to them, then they swear by it."
While such a placebo effect could be used by coaches to motivate athletes, Porcari says that the unknown factor is how long it will last. "We don't know how long we can continue to fool people, if there's a chronic placebo effect," he says. "That's something that needs to be studied."
Jeannine Stein writes for the Los Angeles Times.