Hockey is a sport that is loved by many but is also a sport that is not widely understood by some. Take salt for example. Have you ever wondered why ice hockey players smell salt on the bench? Or why they like to have a bit of salt on their stick? Well, it’s not just a superstition.
Every ice hockey player knows that they need to put salt on the blade of their hockey sticks before they play; there could be things you don’t know about the history of salt and hockey.
But what is the reason behind this anyway? First of all, smelling salts are not the same as the ones you would find in your kitchen or the typical kind you would get in shops.
Hockey players sniff smelling salts spiked with ammonia. The theory is that smelling salts give increased adrenaline, improved focus, alertness, motor abilities, elevated heart rate, blood pressure, open nasal passage, and increased brain activity. In other words, sniffing salts are used to engage the lungs, causing players to breathe faster instantly. This allows athletes to remain alert and attentive as soon as they get onto the rink.
While supporters of smelling salts claim that it boosts confidence and improves performance despite the temporary hit of flared nostrils and watery eyes, critics, on the other hand, have it that it’s just a gimmick. But the smell is unmistakably eye-watering, that much is certain.
Let’s dig deeper and see what these smelling salts are all about!
Smelling Salts: What Are They?
Smelling salts, sometimes referred to as ammonia inhalants, sal volatile, or just ammonia salts, are definitely not your ordinary type of salt. This is a mixture of ethanol, ammonium carbonate, and scented perfumes.
They are inhaled by hockey players and serious athletes in other sports (through the breathing reflex from the ammonia fumes) to increase their energy levels, blood pressure, brain activity, and focus.
Contrary to the regular salts that serve to create a delightful aroma and keep you taking in deep breaths periodically, unable to get enough, these smelling salts do the exact opposite.
They startle you awake, flare your nostrils, irritate your eyes, and they smell “blatantly” not so nice. Considering this, why do hockey players endure these quite unpleasant effects before the game? Well, it’s because of the composition and effects of smelling salts.
They help create positive vibes ahead of the game.
As mentioned, smelling salts contain the active ingredient- ammonia carbonate- and are specially meant to initiate or rather stimulate the body’s neurological system, enabling you to concentrate on your present environment.
Smelling salts have become a common impulse among hockey players and football players alike, and are available in various forms ranging from colorless to white crystalline.
The History of Smelling Slat and Hockey
It’s fascinating to know that smelling salts and playing hockey have come a long way. Initially, these salts were often utilized by doctors in Victorian England to help revitalize consciousness.
There’s also a reference from the 17th century to the usage of the aqueous solution following crystallization. The crystals were combined with scents to be used as smelling salts.
In the early 1900s, medical personnel attending to soldiers in combat carried vials of ammonia salts. When a soldier was hurt and the doctor wanted him to stay awake, they used smelling salts to help regain or maintain consciousness.
According to history, smelling salts have been utilized in a wide range of circumstances, including wars, athletic competitions, medical emergencies, and other related conditions.
They have been utilized in various fields and situations essentially due to their chemical composition, which stimulates the neurological system, causing you to concentrate on your immediate surroundings. No wonder ice hockey players are quite aware of the smell of salt.
However, contrary to popular perception, smelling salts do not emit/give off that pleasant aroma that compels you to take frequent, deep breaths. Instead, the stated pungent smell abruptly wakes you up and irritates your eyes and nostrils, keeping you alert and more active.
Reasons Why Hockey Players Sniff Smelling Salts
There have to be more justifications for using smelling salts in the pre-game ritual for ice hockey games than just the fact that they don’t smell nice.
Many athletes and hockey players claim that smelling salts work based on the science behind the compounds, or magically, as others could say.
You might see players sniffing these salts normally right before game time. And after waving these things under their noses, common reactions include watery eyes and flared nostrils. Their body becomes more attentive and agile for a great game as the substance takes full effect.
Ice hockey players use smelling salts right before the game because this is the optimal moment to do so. They need to get their level of alertness and focus to their peak abilities.
Popular hockey players and proponents of smelling salts have both claimed that doing so makes them feel more alert and buzzy. This liveliness goes a long way in increasing their confidence and awareness and generally improving their motor abilities.
And since smelling salts are known to jerk the body’s fight response, giving a surge of adrenaline, such claims are taken to be true. Athletes, therefore, may benefit from increased energy levels since they have more strength, speed, and improved mental activity.
In a sense, the placebo effect helps the athletes believe that their team will have a successful game and that they will all perform well.
How Long Do Smelling Salts Last?
Despite all the said wonderful effects, athletes say that they dissipate almost immediately. Some hockey players have even claimed that inhaling salts is more of a mental boost than physical stimulation.
Unlike medicine, which has side effects that last 6–12 hours, smelling salts have short-term effects. They only survive a few seconds before vanishing into the air after being unleashed.
It’s good to note that they’re two different kinds of smelling salts: those with ammonia and those with ammonium carbonate.
Ammonium carbonate is weaker than ammonia since the former has greater potency. Ammonia, which is the active component in smelling salts, provides a quick surge of energy.
Although the scent of salt is a potent stimulant, the good thing is that it doesn’t have the same potential for lung injury as a gas might. This makes them usable for persons who have fainted to help them restore consciousness. And also for coaches and players to jolt themselves awake. They should only be used sometimes though, as they don’t last very long.
Smelling salts are packaged in a small, portable container that you can bring with you.
Smelling Salts: How Do They Work?
How exactly do these smelling salts work? After waving it under your nose, the strong smell of ammonia salts activates your body’s nervous system, i.e the vagus nerve.
Since this is the motor nerve connected to the bronchi and heart, blood flow suddenly increases as a result, and breathing quickens as well. That means more oxygen and an extra boost.
In other words, smelling salts cause reflexive inhalation. This reaction accelerates breathing, altering its pattern. Players deem this sensation as an alert that it’s about time the game starts. Frequent use of salt over time seems to firmly instill this innate notion.
According to scientists, the effects of smelling salts only last a brief period of time. It’s like spraying perfume into the air. The stench stays for a little while before going away. The psychological impact, however, lingers far longer- at least until the game’s conclusion.
Players frequently acknowledge that using smelling salts prior to a game provides them with that extra push to perform their best on the ice. Some players have also been known to utilize it mid-game, particularly when they are losing and need the extra push to get into game mode.
What Research/Science Supports the Use of Smelling Salts?
According to a general survey, up to 80% of NHL players utilize smelling salts. It is hard to find someone who does not sniff those tiny vials prior to the game, so this percentage could even be higher.
Given the prevalence, it’s all-natural to wonder if there is any science to using smelling salts.
First, these products are initially FDA-approved, but there is a catch. If you have neck, back, or head injuries, the FDA does not advise using it. The FDA claims that there is no connection between smelling salts and enhanced athletic performance and that their use can only be properly explained scientifically by looking at it from a psychological perspective, as follows:
Players often experience pre-game anxiety and the urge to reenergize before the game. They appear to connect its usage to mental stimulation due to frequent use and popular opinion. This might exhibit some confirmation bias, as it is what happens when people reject any arguments against what they intuitively know to be true, even if those arguments are valid.
It is safe to argue that this belief is more superstitious than scientific. But then again, superstitions are pervasive in all sports, and hockey is no exception. In fact, it’s common for players to travel with amulets and lucky items. Some players even believe that wearing their equipment in a specific order and walking a certain style will bring them luck.
There may be no scientific basis for luck-based beliefs, but there are also no laws that forbid them. As long as they don’t adopt unfair strategies for winning, which many players feel comfortable using as part of their daily routine, players have every right to feel lucky.
Another plausible scientific theory is that athletes take smelling salts because they spend roughly 20 minutes in the locker room right before the game begins. As you can see, they don’t engage in any physical activity to warm up, which could cause the body to begin to “cool down.” According to legend, smelling salt counteracts this cooling-down effect and awakens players‘ consciousness, preparing them for their best performances.
Why Do Most Games Still Include This Ritual?
Some players still adhere to this custom, which is thought to provide good luck and create great sentiments before their games, despite the opinion of some who believe smelling salts are ineffective and nothing more than armor for a mental boost.
There is no scientific explanation or evidence to support the use of salts as part of pre-game rituals, as mentioned above. However, for some people, this is their lucky charm.
Otherwise, hockey is one of the most intense sports in the world.
The superb skating of the players lights up the rink, the flying puck challenges your eyes to keep up, and your bodies lose control and crash against the boards.
That’s why before all of this, there is an odd silence during which players on the bench stretch out their hands for tiny packets of an unidentified substance in a ritualistic manner.
The once-quiet group of gamers becomes wary and their faces twist in the funniest ways as soon as they sniff this drug, breaking the hush. That’s the power of ammonia-spiked salt.
Where Can You Find Them?
Where do you buy smelling salts? Well, these are legal substances and can be obtained from a reliable online store. Just be sure the product you’re getting is genuine.
Read the reviews and then choose wisely.
You can speak with your neighborhood chemist to learn more about where to acquire genuine hockey-smelling salts. Note that smelling salts don’t require a prescription to be used.
They usually come in small packets similar to first aid kit packaging. Ammonia can be purchased over the counter at your local chemist’s store or through an online marketplace. Even homemade recipes can be found on web forums. You ought to stay with the vials, though.
Can You Make Smelling Salts at Home?
Any attempt to make ammonia at home could potentially be harmful to your health. Chemical combination and experimentation are highly discouraged. Additionally, supplement shops rarely sell ammonia, which is the primary component of smelling salts.
Although there are numerous articles online where you can get information on how to create an alternative formula for smelling salt, such procedures should be carried out with caution. It is not recommended in the first place. Homemade smelling salts are a big no!
What do Ice Hockey players sniff? Are Smelling Salts Bad?
Given the controversy surrounding their use, it’s critical to look into any potential adverse health problems related to inhaling ammonia effects. What risks come with improper-smelling salt usage?
To use them properly, hold the vial a few inches from your nose and inhale deeply. However, don’t use ammonia if the scent makes you feel sick, for instance, if you tend to have difficulty breathing, headache, etc.
This substance has a powerful smell and definitely isn’t appropriate for everyone. Always hold it a few inches away from the nose; holding it too close can cause the skin to singe.
Furthermore, you should avoid the jolt that smelling salts create if you’ve recently suffered from a back, neck, or head injury. The shock could make the pain worse.
It goes without saying that smelling salts shouldn’t be given to hockey-playing children. All things considered, it is not such a good habit. Additionally, taking smelling salts while sustaining a serious injury can cause a delay in recovery and might even turn out ugly.
When Do You Stop?
Smelling salts have a long history of being the go-to item anytime a person fainted. Its distinctive smell makes it an effective method even before serving as a pre-game stimulant for hockey games. But where do you draw the line?
Well, due to doctors’ acknowledgment that a sudden head movement is not the best way to treat a suspected concussion, its use in such circumstances has been curtailed and is now totally avoided in hockey and other professional sports.
That said though while using smelling salts as a therapeutic method on the field seems to be over limits, it thrives in the locker room, giving hockey the much-needed boost to keep athletes at their peak awareness.
So why do hockey players smell salt? Well, it’s not just to make you think of a salty snack. Nope, it’s actually a tradition that is hundreds of years old. Hockey players in the early 20th century would smell the salt and rub their sticks in it so they had better control of the puck.
The tradition stuck and to this day, it is still a common practice for players to use smelling salts on the ice before a game to increase their energy levels and focus and improve their overall mortal abilities. There’re no scientific facts, however, to prove any of these theories.