Unlocking the power of adaptogens for enhanced fitness and athletic performance

Unlocking the power of adaptogens for enhanced fitness and athletic performance

Unlocking the power of adaptogens for enhanced fitness and athletic performance

As Gene Tunney wisely said, "To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise."

Given the importance of exercise for our health and well-being, anything we can do to make it easier and more efficient must be good! Incorporating adaptogens into your routine can enhance endurance, reduce fatigue, and promote muscle strength and mass, allowing you to maintain an active lifestyle with ease. Whether you're a dedicated athlete, or simply lead a busy, active life, adaptogens are there to help you achieve more and maintain peak health with ease.

Here are our five favourite adaptogens for performance and endurance in sports and fitness:

Rhodiola: the Viking secret for endurance

What is it?

Rhodiola is a succulent plant which grows at high altitudes in Europe and Asia. The root has a long history of use in traditional medicine and was apparently loved by the Vikings who used it to boost mental and physical endurance.

Why we love it...

Rhodiola is a plant that is renowned for its ability to improve endurance, help with oxygen utilisation, speed recovery after exercise and help with mood and immune function. Who wouldn’t love that?

How it works?

Rhodiola’s ability to help us to exercise and stay active must come, at least in part, from its ability to help us to utilise oxygen more efficiently. As a plant whose natural environment is very cold, at high altitude and with low oxygen levels, it’s interesting that it has the capacity to help us with our levels of oxygenation.

Additionally, we know that Rhodiola seems to be able to reduce our levels of fatigue (which would increase stamina and endurance), lower perceived effort, enhance recovery and mitigate the immune suppression often caused by intense exercise.

The science

Studies have revealed that Rhodiola supplementation decreases lactic acid and creatine kinase levels, which are markers of anaerobic respiration and muscle damage (micro tears) (1). Both micro tears and increased levels of lactic acid cause the aching muscles that we know all too well after prolonged or intense exercise.

One-off larger doses of Rhodiola have been found to reduce both the amount a cyclist’s heart rate increased over a six-mile cycle, and the level of perceived exertion experienced by the cyclist (3).

Rhodiola has been observed to induce antiviral activity in marathon runners, potentially countering post-exercise immune dips (4).

Rhodiola helps reduce fatigue under stress and supports quicker adaptation to high-altitude training (5,6).

Other studies highlight Rhodiola's role in mental clarity and cognitive function, making it a valuable asset not just for physical endurance but also for maintaining focus during prolonged activities. The active compounds in Rhodiola, such as rosavins and salidrosides, are believed to be responsible for these multifaceted benefits, providing a comprehensive boost to both body and mind.

Ginseng: the ancient tonic for modern athletes

What is it?

When we talk about Ginseng, we mean the root of the Panax ginseng plant, also known as Korean or Asian Ginseng. This slow growing plant is native to Asia where it has a reputation as a King amongst herbs.

Why we love it…

Ginseng, a cornerstone of Asian medicine, has long been revered for its ability to calm the mind, fortify the spirit, and prolong life. As an energy booster, it's naturally suited for enhancing exercise performance and recovery.

How it works?

Ginseng's active components, called ginsenosides, are thought to play a crucial role in its adaptogenic properties. These compounds have been shown to enhance physical performance by improving energy metabolism and reducing fatigue.

As well as the physical benefits, Ginseng is also known for its positive impact on mental health. It can help reduce anxiety and improve mood, which are critical factors for athletes dealing with the pressures of competition. By supporting both physical and mental health, Ginseng is an essential adaptogen to elevate your performance.

The science

Studies on Ginseng's effectiveness are mixed, with some showing notable benefits and others reporting no significant effects. It can be hard to say why this might be the case but Ginseng’s long history of use must be there for a reason!

Positive outcomes found in studies include increased exercise duration before exhaustion (7), improved reaction times (8), and enhanced recovery after exertion.

Other studies showed that Ginseng boosts aerobic capacity, reduces oxidative stress, and lowers blood lactate levels, allowing individuals to train harder, recover faster, and build greater strength and endurance (9, 10, 11).

Interestingly, the benefits of Ginseng appear to diminish after supplementation stops, with only a few improvements remaining after three weeks (12). It seems that, when supplementing, consistency is key!

Cordyceps: the mushroom for sustained energy

What is it?

Cordyceps is a cheery orange mushroom that goes by the exotic Latin name of Ophiocordyceps sinensis. In the wild it grows on caterpillars which would have been eaten along with the mushroom. Thankfully we now have other ways of growing Cordyceps and don’t need to involve caterpillars at all!

Why we love it…

Cordyceps first gained global attention after unranked Chinese athletes attributed their performance success to it in the 1993 World Championships.

Known for providing sustained energy, Cordyceps improves aerobic capacity, enhances energy stores, improves fatigue resistance, and supports immune function. By supporting both energy production and respiratory function, Cordyceps offers a dual approach to enhancing athletic performance.

How it works?

Cordyceps contains bioactive compounds like cordycepin and adenosine, which are believed to enhance energy production at the cellular level. These compounds increase the body's production of ATP, the primary energy carrier in cells, which helps improve stamina and reduce fatigue during prolonged exercise (13 – 23).

In addition to its energy-boosting properties, Cordyceps is also known for its ability to improve respiratory health. It can enhance oxygen utilisation and improve lung capacity, making it particularly beneficial for endurance athletes.

The science

Studies suggest that consistent, lower-dose supplementation of Cordyceps over time yields better results than higher, short-term doses (24). Once again, consistency is key!

While some research has indicated that Cordyceps had no effect on professional athletes, one mushroom expert suggests this may be because they are already working at peak oxygen capacity (25, 26).

Reishi: the mushroom of immortality

What is it?

Reishi, a beautiful chestnut coloured mushroom, is also known as Ganoderma lucidum. It is famed for promoting longevity and health - essentially, keeping people healthy into old age.

Why we love it…

Is there anyone who doesn’t love Reishi?

The most famous of all medicinal mushrooms, Reishi has a wide range of health benefits stemming from its high polysaccharide content and triterpenoid compounds. It helps with sleep, anxiety, allergies, immunity and inflammation, amongst other things. While not typically associated with athletic performance, all of these properties make Reishi useful for active individuals.

How it works?

Reishi’s active constituents include polysaccharides and triterpenes, over 130 of which have been identified. Most of these fall into two families: ganoderic and lucidenic acids. These compounds have many wonderful properties, all contributing to Reishi’s ability to reduce inflammation, improve sleep, support immune function, calm the nervous system and reduce the incidence of allergies.

By normalising immune function, reducing inflammation and stress, as well as improving sleep, Reishi helps athletes maintain peak physical condition and mental clarity. Its comprehensive health benefits make it a valuable ally for recovery and overall health.

The science

One study examining football players who lived at high altitudes but trained at sea level suggested that Reishi might help alleviate the impact of strenuous exercise on the immune system (31).

Research indicates that Reishi improves aerobic endurance, reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress (28), and lessens exercised-induced fatigue (29).

These effects may be more applicable to those whose ability to exercise is already impaired due to illness or older age (30).

Ashwagandha: the stamina-boosting root

What is it?

Ashwagandha is the root of an evergreen shrub native to Asia and Africa. Named for its strong smell, reminiscent of a horse, it is renowned for giving the strength and stamina of a stallion! Its Latin name, Withania somnifera, indicates the other use it is famous for – that of helping us sleep.

Why we love it…

A non-stimulating adaptogen, Ashwagandha can simultaneously help us to sleep while also helping us cope with adversity and improving our energy and joie de vivre during the day. It is also known for improving thyroid function and helping build muscle mass – all great for those of us keen on working out.

How it works?

Ashwagandha contains withanolides, which are the active compounds responsible for its adaptogenic effects. These compounds help reduce stress, enhance physical performance, and improve overall resilience.

By lowering cortisol levels, Ashwagandha helps prevent the negative effects of chronic stress on the body, such as muscle breakdown and impaired recovery.

The science

Studies show that Ashwagandha improves oxygen utilisation (34), cardiorespiratory endurance, and overall quality of life (37), making it an exceptional choice for athletes and active individuals. For example, in a study of 57 men taking ashwagandha while doing resistance training for eight weeks, they found significant increases in muscle mass and strength, reduced body fat, and decreased exercise-induced muscle damage (32).

This adaptogen reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone), promotes muscle strength and mass (33), and enhances endurance.

In addition to its physical benefits, Ashwagandha also supports cognitive function and mental clarity. It can enhance focus and concentration, which are essential for athletes during training and competition. By improving both physical and mental performance, Ashwagandha provides a comprehensive approach to optimising health and fitness (40-47).

We’ve done all the hard work for you: The Herbtender supplements for training

It is our mission to help you learn how to incorporate adaptogens effortlessly into your daily rituals, so you can live life more vibrantly. If you’re considering adaptogens to get more out of your training, we recommend the following formulations from our range:

Perform & Recover, designed specifically to help you to train harder and adapt faster. This endurance-enhancing blend contains Rhodiola, Ginseng, Reishi and Cordyceps along with added Vitamin C to reduce athletic stress, support your immune system, and stop the early onset of training fatigue.

Doze & Dream, a tranquil adaptogen blend formulated around Ashwagandha to promote uninterrupted rest when you need to switch off and recharge. Blended to help the body relax so you can settle for the night and enjoy a much-needed reset to help with recovery.

Daily Defence, blended with adaptogens, mushrooms (including Reishi and Cordyceps), and vitamin C to support your immune system, which protects from bacteria, viruses, and toxins.


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