Boost Oxygen is a quick, fast, affordable way to combat altitude sickness | SummitDaily.com

Boost Oxygen is a quick, fast, affordable way to combat altitude sickness

You think that's air you're breathing?

At 9,000 feet in Summit County, it's no secret that the air is thinner than at sea level in San Francisco or New York City. Thinner air means your body works harder to get the oxygen it needs to perform on the trail, slopes or even walking up the stairs, and that extra work puts a hefty demand on athletes at any level.

On average, air is just 21-percent oxygen mixed with a slurry of other compounds, including carbon dioxide, ozone and particulates. When you take a deep breath, your lungs filter through junk just to get a small piece of the pure, rejuvenating oxygen your body needs. That's when altitude sickness can hit — and hit hard.

Enter Boost Oxygen, a relatively new over-the-counter oxygen system made for athletes, Average Joes and everyone in between. It's designed to bolster your oxygen intake when you need it the most, from an afternoon of hiking and biking to a full day of charging the backcountry, or even an evening of kung fu sparring. And that's just what your lungs need when the rest of your body is fighting the environment.

"Athletes (have) the perception that if I'm blasting with oxygen, I'm not in the best shape," said Brian Hoek, a spokesman for Boost Oxygen. "It means they need help and that's not true. It has nothing to do with it. Your fitness level does come into play, but if you are exerting yourself to the max, your system will take its time to get your breath back."

Here's the kicker: Boost Oxygen is affordable. At $15 for a 22-ounce canister with 135 to 150 breaths, it's cheaper than similar products or even pure canister oxygen — the type that requires a prescription. Boost is 95-percent oxygen, and pro athletes with the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and the National Football League are already using it. During the Broncos home game on Oct. 9, the Atlanta Falcons became the first pro team to swap oxygen masks for Boost Oxygen canisters on the sidelines.

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"This is an emerging product, not because oxygen is new for athletes, but because it has never been this portable before," Hoek said. "One thing I've run into over the years is it seems like there is a high level of skepticism about our product. When you have this can of 95-percent oxygen, people assume it's canned air, like it's the equivalent of bottled water. But we don't just wave this in the air to fill it."

In the field

Patrick Sweeney, a part-time Summit County local who's biked at 17,500 feet to the Mount Everest base camp, turns to Boost Oxygen when traveling from one corner of the world to the next. His body does a good job of acclimating to new and different climates, he said, but he almost always struggles with altitude for the first day or two above 9,000 feet — the threshold when your body is almost always in an anaerobic state.

"Boost is just a training tool for me at altitude," said Sweeney, who doesn't use it during races. "So when I'm in Breck, I'll often do bike or rowing machine intervals. It's tough to get the same intensity I get at sea level, so I supplement the oxygen before and after each interval. It's like going down to sea level for the speed training and staying at altitude for the endurance."

Over the years, Sweeney has competed in the Leadville 100 MTB race several times. One year, he met a doctor who brought an oxygen tank for nightly recovery. It worked like a charm, but it came with a major hurdle: weight. The tank was clunky and hard to transport, Sweeney said, and definitely not something he would bring on a remote trip to summits like Russia's Mount Elbrus or his next adventure, Argentina's Aconcagua.

But what about altitude sickness? Isn't there a red pill or a blue pill for that?

"The only way your body can take oxygen is through your lungs," said Hoek, who noted that three or four hits from the Boost canister is enough to return your body to an aerobic state. "I've seen products that are altitude remedies, (but) when oxygen is a gas, the absolute best way to administer it is by breathing."

Visitors to Summit County are starting to take notice. Boost is sold in large canisters at City Market and select ski shops, and small canisters are found everywhere from gas stations to liquor stores.