What is Oxygen Consumption (VO2) and What Affects It?

  • February 3, 2020

Hi Unlimi-Troop, here we are back at it again with a brand-new blog post.

You’ve seen it around before. You’ve heard your sports buddies talk about it. Someone told you it’s a must-have metric in your arsenal of tools if you want to push your endurance to the next level (besides us, that is). But do you really know what Oxygen Consumption is, and what affects it?

Well, hold your breath (pun incoming), because in this post we’re going to take an introductory dive into the world of Oxygen Consumption (it had to be done).

What Is Oxygen Consumption?

Oxygen Consumption is an aerobic performance metric, meaning that it relates to the efficiency with which the body uses air (i.e. oxygen) to sustain its energy production processes. Knowing our Oxygen Consumption levels is important because it helps us understand and improve our ability to perform physical activity, as well as have a much more precise estimation of the number of calories burned.

Oxygen Consumption is often abbreviated as VO2. People sometimes confuse this with the metric VO2 Max (Maximal Oxygen Consumption) but, although related, they are different. More on that on a future post.

Fun Fact: What Does VO2 Stand For?
VO2 stands for “Volume” (V) of “Oxygen” (O2). The “Consumption” part is implied. Simple!

What Does Oxygen Consumption Measure?

Precisely speaking, the Oxygen Consumption metric measures the volume of oxygen the body takes in and uses over a minute of time. This rate can be expressed as:

  1. Absolute VO2: Oxygen Consumption is expressed as the number of litres of oxygen consumed per minute, lO2 / min.
  2. Relative VO2: Oxygen Consumption is expressed as the number of millilitres of oxygen consumed per minute in relation to body mass, mlO2 / (kg · min).

It is useful to track this metric in both absolute and relative terms.

How Can I Track Oxygen Consumption?

Hint: It’s All About Breathing

Although it’s common to find heart-rate monitors that attempt to estimate a person’s VO2 levels during physical activity, the real way to calculate VO2 is through breath analysis.

In this technique, the volume of oxygen coming in and out of the body through breath is directly measured and recorded. With this information, it is then possible to precisely calculate VO2.

Our Smartmask™ allows the precise tracking of both absolute and relative VO2 in this way.

What Affects Oxygen Consumption?

There are several factors that affect Oxygen Consumption levels. Unfortunately, some of them are a bit out of our control, such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Other Genetic Factors

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t (nor shouldn’t) work to improve your VO2 levels and thus increase your aerobic performance. Some of the manageable factors that affect VO2 levels are:

  • Amount of Physical Activity
  • Type of Physical Activity
  • Presence of Negative Habits (e.g. Smoking)
  • Nutrition
  • Body Composition (Fat Percentage)

As you can see, although you can’t change every single factor, there is still a lot you can work on to improve your Oxygen Consumption!

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