Menthol alleviates post-race elevations in muscle soreness and metabolic and respiratory stress during running

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2024 Apr 2. doi: 10.1007/s00421-024-05463-w. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: We evaluated (1) whether participating in middle- and long-distance running races augments muscle soreness, oxygen cost, respiration, and exercise exertion during subsequent running, and (2) if post-race menthol application alleviates these responses in long-distance runners.

Methods: Eleven long-distance runners completed a 1500-m race on day 1 and a 3000-m race on day 2. On day 3 (post-race day), either a 4% menthol solution (Post-race menthol) or a placebo solution (Post-race placebo) serving as a vehicle control, was applied to their lower leg skin, and their perceptual and physiological responses were evaluated. The identical assessment with the placebo solution was also conducted without race participation (No-race placebo).

Results: The integrated muscle soreness index increased in the Post-race placebo compared to the No-race placebo (P < 0.001), but this response was absent in the Post-race menthol (P = 0.058). Oxygen uptake during treadmill running tended to be higher (4.3%) in the Post-race placebo vs. No-race placebo (P = 0.074). Oxygen uptake was 5.4% lower in the Post-race menthol compared to the Post-race placebo (P = 0.018). Minute ventilation during treadmill running was 6.7-7.6% higher in the Post-race placebo compared to No-race placebo, whereas it was 6.6-9.0% lower in the Post-race menthol vs. Post-race placebo (all P ≤ 0.001). The rate of perceived exertion was 7.0% lower in the Post-race menthol vs. Post-race placebo (P = 0.007).

Conclusions: Middle- and long-distance races can subsequently elevate muscle soreness and induce respiratory and metabolic stress, but post-race menthol application to the lower legs can mitigate these responses and reduce exercise exertion in long-distance runners.

Keywords: Analgesia; Distance running; Running economy; TRPM8.