People new to running, or really any aerobic sport, have to work to build their VO2 maximums. VO2 max is a measurement of one’s maximal capacity to uptake, transport, and use oxygen during physical exertion. The higher one’s VO2 max, the more efficient their body is at delivering oxygen to their muscles, and the more oxygen they can uptake per minute. For the geeks among us, VO2 max is typically measured using the Fick Equation as follows.
[ VO2 Max = Q(CaO2 - CvO2) ] – values taken at maximum exertion where Q is cardiac output, CaO2 is arterial oxygen content, and CvO2 is venous (vein) oxygen content
For the non-geeky, this is how a VO2 test boils down: a person gets on a treadmill or stationary bike, and they run or cycle until they reach maximum exertion, at which point testing equipment (using Fick Equation logic) determines how many milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body-weight their body processes in one minute. Men typically have a twenty to forty percent higher VO2 max than do women. The following chart shows a range of VO2 maximums for healthy people.
This next chart shows the VO2 maximums of select elite athletes.
Elite athletes often have VO2 maximums that are double, or even triple those of relatively healthy non-athletes. Looking at these two charts, for example, one can see that Lance Armstrong has a VO2 max of 84 ml/kg/min; whereas, an average non-athlete in his age group has a VO2 max around 40 ml/kg/min. This means that at maximum exertion, Lance Armstrong uptakes more than twice the amount of oxygen than do his average non-athlete counterparts.
How do you increase your VO2 Max? The simple answer is to continually do aerobic activity over several months, years even. Beyond just holding a steady course at your chosen aerobic sport, there are, however, a few additional things you can do to help improve it.
- Expand your lungs with deep diaphragmatic breathing. Regular yoga and deep breathing practice helps keep lungs expanded.
- Stay adequately hydrated, and keep your electrolytes balanced. Hydration is needed to keep blood volume consistent. When you are dehydrated, your heart has a lower stroke volume; thus, it has to beat faster to keep oxygen flowing to your muscles.
- Run at high altitudes; it forces you to increase the number of oxygen-delivering red blood cells in your blood stream.
- Dose up on iron rich foods. If you are iron deficient your red blood cells contain less hemoglobin than they should. Hemoglobin is needed for proper oxygen delivery to your muscles.
- Sprint periodically. Short bouts of intense exercise improves mitochondrial density. The more mitochondria you have, the more oxygen you can utilize. Interval training and sprinting is probably the single most impactful thing you can do to improve your VO2 max.
- Omega 3, and the herb Cordyceps have both been shown to help the body assimilate oxygen. Consider supplementing with them.