Performance wear that pumps oxygen to your muscles

The athlete’s drive to go longer, be faster and grow stronger is a constant pursuit, and athletic apparel brands are always on the lookout for new technologies to make their clothing stand out. And truthfully, technology is making it possible for athletes to gain an edge, but their marketing departments are also incredibly adept at hyping apparel to gain a corner on the market.

So how’s a consumer supposed to separate hype from scientific evidence? Reading the information provided on apparel websites is a first step, but it’s more important to seek out information on the actual studies performed. That’s what I’ve done with 1st Round Athletics, a brand that just wrapped up a $50,000 campaign on Indiegogo.

The website claims

There were a few claims on 1st Round Athletics’ website that raised my eyebrows. As someone with a master’s degree in exercise science, I tend to subscribe to the theory, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” I approach most claims (like the following) with a measure of skepticism:

  • Claim #1: Why It’s the Best. “Many other companies provide functional technologies in the form of moisture wicking, anti-microbial, and UV protection. EnergyDNA® delivers all these functions PLUS increased oxygen to muscles, limiting fatigue while increasing performance.”
  • Claim #2: Superior Performance. “Through increased oxygen delivered to the muscles, energyDNA® is able to limit fatigue, improving speed, strength, power & endurance.”

Those are pretty hefty claims, especially given that most athletes will do just about anything to improve their speed, strength, power and endurance. I have to say I was intrigued, but skeptical.

The studies

The 1st Round website referred to several double-blind, placebo-controlled laboratory studies, even providing summaries of the studies on their site. This is a fantastic start since most athletic apparel brands don’t even go this far.

But, here’s my problem with the type of summary 1st Round provided: Companies can pick and choose which results to highlight, without providing a completely accurate portrayal of what the studies found. As such, I asked the company to provide me with the full-text studies so I could dive a little deeper into what, specifically, was tested and discovered.

Understanding scientific studies: First, I think it’s important to explain that scientific studies are typically focused on a very specific demographic, and they’re typically testing a very specific parameter. This type of specificity is the only real way to start making claims about a product or protocol. That said, because of the specific nature of scientific studies, it’s incredibly difficult to accurately extrapolate results and jump to conclusions about anything that’s not specifically tested in the study.

The four studies on the Celliant fiber (what 1st Round refers to as energyDNA®) were incredibly compelling. They did, in fact, prove increased blood oxygenation when wearing the garments, as well as decreased pain and increased strength. That said, these results should be taken with a grain of salt. More studies are still needed to prove the types of athletic performance enhancements that the website is claiming, and here’s why:

    • One study was performed specifically to measure increased blood oxygenation to the extremities for individuals with diabetes. The results were positive, but the demographic tested had nothing to do with athletes or athletic performance.
    • One study was performed on individuals with chronic foot pain — most of the participants were those with limited blood flow due to diabetes and the rest were individuals with a variety of chronic foot ailments. Again, the results were good, but the test had nothing to do with athletes or athletic performance.
    • A third study tested increased blood oxygenation in healthy individuals. The results were positive — a great indicator that the apparel is providing beneficial effects — but, the study was limiting. The individuals in the study weren’t working out or otherwise performing any tests to measure strength, power, endurance or speed. There’s no way to accurately assume these results would benefit athletes.
    • The final, and most recent study is the most compelling. This study did, in fact, measure blood oxygenation levels and grip strength. Individuals wearing the garments performed significantly better on a grip strength test when wearing the Celliant-infused garments than they did wearing the control garments. That said, there are still many limitations to the study. For instance, grip strength doesn’t necessarily correlate to strength in other muscle groups. Likewise, a static strength test doesn’t necessarily correlate to the active strength and power necessary during athletic performance. And while assumptions can be made about increased blood oxygenation and improved endurance, there have been no actual studies performed to verify the claims.

I’ll be the first person to say that the research on the Celliant (energyDNA®) apparel fiber is positive. It’s impressive that the brand has made a point to have the fibers tested in multiple studies, and so far, the data is good. That said, I strongly believe that most of their claims should be followed by asterisks. There has been no scientific study that accurately assesses the improved endurance, speed, or power of an athlete, and even the study proving an increase in grip strength can’t automatically be extrapolated to assume increased strength across all muscle groups or athletic endeavors.

The trial

It’s one thing to dissect the science of a product and another to test out the product. When I requested the full text scientific studies, I also requested a sample to test the product myself. They only had mens’ garments at the time, so I made my husband my guinea pig. He’s a good one to ask, since he also has an undergrad degree in exercise science and was a personal trainer for eight years. In terms of the product itself, here’s our summary:

      • Cost: On par with other, similar brands and products. This long sleeve compression top was $80 — reasonable when compared to other brands.
      • Quality: The garment is well made — no loose seams or problems with construction. It washes well.
      • Appearance: While my husband isn’t a big fan of tight athletic clothes, this shirt, and the company’s other garments, are all on-trend in terms of style. The shirt fit my husband well, and was true to size.
      • Performance: My husband was impressed with the performance of the shirt, “I really like that there’s a more fitted band around the bottom — it prevented the shirt from riding up, which is one of the reasons I don’t typically like more fitted styles, particularly when doing sprint workouts. It also had good temperature control — I didn’t get too hot or too cold, even after working up a sweat. It had good stretch and didn’t feel like it restricted or constricted my movement.”

To buy or not to buy

There’s certainly no reason not to buy apparel from 1st Round. The clothing is high-quality, attractive and performance-focused, which is what every athlete wants. The price is also in line with other similar brands, so if you’re in the market, it’s worth a look. That said, don’t buy the brand just because of its performance-enhancing claims. You can be hopefully optimistic that the brand will make you faster, fatigue-resistant, and more powerful, but there’s no specific evidence yet that can verify those claims.

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