Hi ! Welcome to Truestar Health.       Log In
Top 5 Sports Training Books
Load Calculator
Periodization of Strength
Common Injuries
Certification Programs
Sport-Specific Article Archives

Important Links
Do Nasal Dilator Strips Help Performance?

By Michael Carrera, MSc.
Natasha Vani, MSc.

Jerry Rice is one of the greatest wide receivers ever to play in the NFL, and potentially the greatest player in the entire league. He holds 14 NFL records including most receptions, receiving yards and total touchdowns in the regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl. When you see an athlete of his caliber, wearing and providing testimonial on any type of device to increase his level of performance, you have to carefully question whether it, in fact, works.

Jerry Rice is only one of many athletes in the NFL, NHL and Major Soccer League who has worn or continues to wear devices such as nasal dilator strips in the hopes of increasing performance. However, do these gimmicks, in this case nasal dilator strips, really work?

What are they?
A nasal dilator strip is simply a device that sits across the bridge of your nose. Through the use of two plastic strips, the device is designed to pull open the nostrils, increasing the diameter of the air passageway.

The most common brand, the Breathe Right® strip, was originally designed to relieve nasal breathing difficulties in those with structural deformities within the nose. Considered successful in relieving these problems and in increasing total ventilation, the device soon progressed to a possible method of enhancing performance in athletes. However, thus far most studies demonstrate no relationship between the use of nasal dilators and increased athletic performance. So whether or not a contraption this simple can truly have an impact on the performance of an athlete as conditioned and gifted as Jerry Rice still remains in debate.

Beliefs and Facts on how They Work

The theory behind nasal dilator strips is if you open the nasal passageway, you decrease the resistance to airflow; therefore the muscles that control breathing do not have to work as hard since air is entering with less difficulty. If the respiratory muscles do not have to work as hard, it is believed this saved energy can go to the muscles involved in the movement.

At rest, we breathe mainly through our nose, in fact, roughly 80% of total ventilation is supplied by the nose. But when you exercise and you begin breathing harder, the air coming in is predominately supplied via the mouth. During exercise, breathing through the nose drops from 80%, to roughly 25 to 40%, even during an activity as simple as a light jog. Therefore, it is questionable whether wearing a device which helps with breathing through the nose really works when we have shifted toward breathing through the mouth.


Let’s assume that you breathe predominately through your nose. You wear a nasal dilator so breathing becomes easier since there is less resistance to air flow, and the total amount of incoming air is increased. Science tells us that when the amount of oxygen coming in increases, you increase the partial pressure of oxygen in the lungs. We know that gases travel from an area of higher pressure to an area of lower pressure. Therefore, it is believed that the higher pressure of oxygen in the lungs will result in a greater amount of oxygen traveling from the lungs to the blood. More oxygen in the blood translates to more oxygen being delivered to the working muscles and therefore, performance is enhanced.

The hemoglobin in our blood dictates how much oxygen gets to the working muscle. Hemoglobin is a protein connected to red blood cells. It is responsible for transporting the oxygen in the blood to the muscles that require it. During exercise the hemoglobin sites are usually 100% saturated with oxygen. This means that it does not matter if you take in more oxygen by wearing the nasal dilator, because the rate at which oxygen can travel from the lungs to the blood is at a maximum.

Is using the nasal dilator a waste of time?
Contrary to scientific findings, athletes in various sports continue to wear nasal strips. A few anecdotal reasons have been proposed to validate the use of nasal strips by athletes. One proposition is that a psychological phenomenon exists whereby an athlete feels that the nasal dilator is improving his or her breathing which translates into improved sport performance. Also, a nasal dilator strip is probably effective for athletes or individuals with nasal structural problems that impede airflow. In the end, since nasal strips do not seem to impede performance, and may in fact provide a psychological boost, there is little harm in wearing them.

No device can replace a properly planned and methodical program. If you are interested in training for a particular sport, visit our sport-specific page and profile to receive an annual training plan.


> > Back to Sport-Specific home