Mental clarity and consciousness are among the main factors that may help athletes function better. Smelling salt is chemically ammonium carbonate. It is used as a “wake up” stimulant by athletes to perform better. Smelling salt is legal in sports, as it has no effects on muscular endurance and strength. It simply increases mental alertness.
Smelling salt is generally used by weight lifters, wrestlers, hockey players, powerlifters, gymnasts, strong man competitors, and especially boxers who look dazed or knocked unconscious. Not only is it used by athletes, but also it could be used on people who are about to faint.
It is also called “baker`s ammonia”. It is a white powder that releases ammonia gas when mixed with water. Most sports coaches carry smelling salt solution in a bottle, and they administer to their athletes by asking them to inhale ammonia for 1-3 seconds on their ways to the stage.
Smelling salt stimulates quickly the fifth cranial nerve and sympathetic nervous system. The stimulation of the fifth cranial nerve increases brain activity followed by mental alertness, and the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system increases heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. Vasovagal syncope which is commonly known among people as “faint” is caused by overactivity of parasympathetic nervous system. Using smelling salt revives them by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system.
Smelling salt may interfere with neurological assessment of an athlete who has sustained a head trauma, making difficult for health care professionals to evaluate the extent of the damage. This is why some sports – governing bodies disagree with the use of smelling salt.
Abazar Habibinia, MD, DFN
Executive Director of Canadian Academy of Sports Nutrition.
Published on April 19, 2018