They're affordable and not banned by major professional sports leagues, the NCAA, or high school sports associations. All of this might lead you to think that aromatic salts are perfectly safe, but that's not necessarily the case. For example, the World Boxing Union prohibits contestants or coaches from administering aromatic salts or “similar irritants” during a match. If you can handle the stench, aromatic salts can do a lot to increase your performance on the field or in the weight room.
While the use of aromatic salts dates back to Roman times, there is no definite time period that indicates when athletes began using the packs as a type of energy boost. Aromatic salts were already used in the Victorian era (approximately in the second half of the 19th century). Former NFL quarterback and current Fox NFL co-host, Terry Bradshaw, said that his teammates used aromatic salts regularly when he played in the 1970s. From the soccer field to the deadlift platform, aromatic salts offer a pocket-sized performance boost, like Popeye and his famous spinach cans, which make muscles sprout from your skin.
Manning said the medical community disapproves of its use, especially in situations similar to those Bradshaw described, because the use of aromatic salts can mask the symptoms of the underlying condition. Semantics aside, “the proper use of aromatic salts is not intrinsically harmful to the body, but that does not mean that they are not rigidly controlled or outright prohibited in some contexts. Despite its widespread use on turf (one article source reports that 80 percent of all professional football players consume olfactory salt), sources from the American College of Sports Medicine noted that the ergogenic effects are largely placebo-type. Despite numerous testimonies from athletes who support aromatic salts and their benefits, there is no scientific evidence to validate this argument.
More than anything, athletes who play on the field or fight with the bar use aromatic salts as an ergogenic aid for mental clarity and concentration. Crystallized ammonia carbonate (which is essentially what aromatic salts are) is extremely pungent and irritating when its vapors are inhaled through the nose. The use of aromatic salts in American sports first became popular in boxing, as coaches used them to revive fighters who had been stunned or unconscious. The instant stimulation of aromatic salts and the increase in respiration, blood pressure, and the body's heart rate can help a person regain consciousness.
When I played for the Steelers and the bell rang, I would pick up aromatic salts and go out right away. Even if the real benefits of aromatic salts are mostly psychological, that doesn't make them useless.