Herbal Aid for athletes

October 19, 2015

Now that I have told you all about the new studies about L- glutamine, many athletes have asked me what they do recommend to aid in stamina.

If there was something that I thought every athlete should add to their arsenal, it would be mushroom and herbal adaptogens. Put aside creatine, BCAA supplementation, glutamine and any other ergogenic aid. These only address the physical demand (with debatable results), while neglecting the psychological and emotional needs of an athlete, and the biological and chemical stressors that deplete strength and endurance.

What many people don’t think about when it comes to power, speed and endurance, is that there is more to it than the physical output. Talent will only take you so far without drive, and the strength of your body is only as strong as the strength of your mind, emotions and immune system. What really makes people stand out in sports is a superior work ethic and drive, consistent performance, health, focus and composure under stressful situations.

 Just like you can’t teach someone will, physical ergogenic aids will not produce all of the other attributes that make a champion. But what if there was something that could increase your drive, stabilize your emotions and increase physical output? There is, and they are in the group called adaptogens.

What are Adaptogens? 

Adaptogens increase the body’s resistance to physical (heat, cold and exertion), chemical (toxins and heavy metals) and biological (bacteria and viruses) stressors. What makes them special is that they help modulate the body’s stress response so that it does not overreact to extreme physical, mental, emotional or chemical stress which depletes cells of vital energy. When hormones like cortisol are secreted in excess, they can do quite a bit of damage on your body leading to total exhaustion.

Adaptogens help resist and adapt to the stress, restoring balance in the cardiovascular, immune and neuroendocrine system while causing minimal (if any) physiological disturbance, side effects or toxicity. Maintaining high testosterone levels are crucial for muscle mass, recovery, confidence and determination, while high physical and mental stress can squander the hormone and the results from it. Adaptogens can help protect testosterone by helping the body adapt to stressful conditions.

Adaptogens have been of interest. Studies revealed that they increased swimming times in the Porsolt test, AKA forced swimming test. This would evolve into rigorous studies that researched how they helped the body adapt to all unfavorable conditions from Olympic competition, combat, space travel and everyday stress. The ability of the adaptogens to help boost energy while burning energy allows you to stay at the top of your game until the end.

How Adaptogens Work

The mechanisms behind this action include increasing levels of ATP (energy) and creatine phosphate (power). They contain powerful antioxidants and protect the mitochondria cell membranes and DNA while increasing cardiovascular function and oxygen efficiency. Adaptogens also increase the manufacture of proteins and other substances for the repair of damages. This combination makes adaptogens the ideal accessory to an optimal diet for power, speed and endurance.

Adaptogens tend to work best as a synergistic combination and work differently than a stimulant like caffeine. What you notice may appear subtle because your body will be functioning at its optimal level. In other words, it will appear that it’s coming from you, not a supplement. It’s when you stop taking it that you notice a difference. It shows up as mental toughness and stamina, emotional stability, and an inherent drive to want to work out, compete and push yourself. One of the best indicators of your body’s adaptation process is the want and need to mentally and physically work your body. 

The Top 5 Adaptogens 

#1  EditCordyceps

Cordyceps is an extremely unique medicinal mushroom that grows wild on various insects and arthropods in the high mountains of China, Nepal, and Tibet. The spores of the fungi find a host in a population that has grown too large, and restore balance by taking over the host and growing a new mushroom. Marks have been found on fossilized leaves, suggesting the role of this fungus-host takeover has evolved for more than 48 million years.

Cordyceps contain contain adenosine, cordycepic acid, cordycepin and other related compounds. These compounds help with adrenal fatigue, adrenal depletion and resistance to physical, mental and emotional stress. It is through this mechanism that can increase energy levels, stamina and endurance. Cordyceps also contain the well studied beta glucans, which support immune function. People have used cordyceps to help acclimate to high altitudes by increasing oxygen capacity. This ability carries over into athletic performance, increasing stamina and endurance through better oxygen transportation. The response and results for both males and females in any age bracket has made this the #1 choice for adaptogens. Adaptogens: The Secret Weapon for Athletes. If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for? 

#2  Eleuthero Root or Siberian Ginseng

Also known as Siberian Ginseng, eleuthero is a small, woody shrub native to the mountain forests of Northeastern Asia. It has been used for centuries in China and Russia to prevent colds and flu, increase energy, vitality and longevity. It has been shown in both in vitro and animal models to increase endurance, muscle strength, increase memory and learning, anti-fatigue, increase immunity, and anti-depressant effects. One study found in 8 weeks if 800mg, VO2 peak of the subjects elevated 12%, endurance time improved 23%, the highest heart rate increased 4%, and metabolism was altered which spared glycogen storage. The study concluded that “this was the first well-conducted study that shows that 8-week ES supplementation enhances endurance capacity, elevates cardiovascular functions and alters the metabolism for sparing glycogen in recreationally trained males.”

The adaptogenic properties of ginseng are believed to be due to its effects on hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, resulting in elevated plasma corticotropin and corticosteroids levels.  The Complete German Commission E Monographs indicated Eleuthero Root is “a tonic for invigoration and fortication in times of fatigue, and debility or declining capacity for work and concentration.”

In Mongolia, it is used to accelerate adaptation of new people to the harsh mountain and desert climate. In the U.S., it has been used for a rapid recovery from exercise. It has also be found to be effective with treating upper respiratory tract infections, common with runners.

The quality you purchase is very important because many commercial products can have little to none of the herb at all along with contamination. Avoid taking past 3:00 in the afternoon since it can affect sleep.

You can buy this herb at mountain rose herbs.
#3 Ashwagandha Root

Ashwagandha is a root used traditional in Ayurvedic medicine for over 2,500 years. Studies have shown that it reduces stress, memory enhancement, antioxidant activity and enhanced immune function. One study showed faster swimming time in rats, longer duration of muscle contractility in the heart muscle of frogs and increased glycogen storage capacity in the liver. A second study showed that ashwagandha promoted signifiant immunological effects within 96 hours of consuming the root extract twice daily. A third studyfound that ashwagandha increased velocity, power, VO2 max, lower limb muscular strength and neuromuscular coordination.

If you are under tremendous physical, mental or emotional stress, then you are depressing your testosterone levels needed for muscle mass and recovery. Ashwagandha can help normalize thyroid function by converting T4 to T3, and minimize the damage done by cortisol. Avoid during pregnancy.

You can buy this herb at Mountain Rose Herbs.

#4 Rhodiola 

It was recorded to be used in ancient Greece, and the Vikings relied on it for strength and endurance. I mean c’mon, have you seen pictures of those guys? Yet it seems to be very hit or miss with people. That is the nature of adaptogens however, and you need to find the right fit for you.

In terms of Rhodila, my impression from the research shows that it appears to have the most effect on mental performance, which drives physical performance. In multiple double-blind, placebo controlled trials, Rhodiola Rosea enhanced learning, prevented mental fatigue, reduced errors and improved the quality of work produced.1,2 Rhodiola rosea has the most pronounced effect on mental fatigue during stress and strain when compared to other adaptogens.

This could prove invaluble if you need to increase your drive, focus and will to push thorugh the pain when your body can go much longer than your mind. Numerous Soviet studies have shown that Rhodiola not only enhances learning and memory, but it improves mental speed, accuracy, work capacity, abstract thinking, reaction time and errors. Biochemically, it raises levels of the feel good neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brainstem, cerebral cortex and hypothalamus. It may be contraindicated in those with bipolar disorder or manic depression.

You can buy this herb at Mountain Rose Herbs.

#5 wild chaga

Chaga grows on wild birch trees in the extremely cold, inhospitable environments of Siberia, Canada and parts of northern America. The incredible compounds of Chaga are mostly due to the nutrients of the wild birch trees that are transferred to the mushroom. Chaga contains a multitude of minerals, and is one of the highest sources of superoxide dimutase (SOD) known, responsible for blocking the toxicity of free radicals. In one study, the researchers concluded that Chaga mushroom extracts might represent a valuable source of biologically active compounds with potential for protecting cellular DNA from oxidative damage in vitro.This is important for those undergoing heavy endurance training and oxidative damage.
You can buy this herb at Mountain Herb Herbs.

Cultivating Herbal Friendships

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