Now that we are in spring it’s time to get outside and play, and there’s an increasingly popular class of herbs, called adaptogens, which can boost your performance. Though it’s only recently that adaptogens are getting their moment in the health limelight, the use of these herbs is not new, particularly to cultures like India and China with long histories of natural medicine.

Adaptogens are plants and mushrooms that improve the body’s ability to respond to stress. Traditionally, they’ve been used to balance the body’s stress response, improve sleep, support the immune system, maintain reproductive health, and yes, improve stamina and exercise recovery.

The effects are subtle, but real, and adaptogens are safe for long-term use in most populations. Despite a long history of use, we’re just beginning to see scientific studies to support what many traditional healers have known for centuries.

You already know the importance of fueling your body with whole foods and staying well hydrated for optimal exercise performance. To support your body’s hard efforts and give yourself a boost, consider adding the following herbs to your self-care routine.

Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is an herb from Siberia, which has been used to support healthy blood sugar levels, optimal use of glycogen, and the production of cellular energy. Eleuthero has also been shown to support a healthy immune system. One study found Eleuthero to help support healthy energy levels and increase time to exhaustion by lessening the build-up of lactic acid (the compound responsible for muscle soreness after a workout).

American Ginseng
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has long been used by the Native American populations of North America. Studies suggest that supplementation could support healthy muscle recovery post-exercise and healthy inflammatory responses, together supporting normal insulin sensitivity. This herb has been shown to support cognitive function, which may support faster reaction times. Ginseng has also traditionally been used to encourage healthy prolonged energy levels, making it ideal for endurance athletes.

Maca root (Lepidium meyenii) is a Peruvian herb which grows in the high Andes, where it serves as an important food source. Traditionally, maca has been valued for its high nutritional value and its ability to support fertility.

Studies suggest that supplementation can support endurance and stamina, as well as healthy libido. Furthermore, studies suggest that maca can improve endurance capacity and reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress.

Turmeric (Cucurma longa) is a root whose primary active constituent, cucurmin, supports healthy inflammatory response in the body, making it an ideal addition to any athlete’s diet. Cucurmin supplementation can also support healthy oxidative stress and blood antioxidant capacity. A combination of cucurmin and piperine, a component in black pepper, supports healthy muscle recovery post workouts.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is a mushroom highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. It is used by modern herbalists to support stamina and energy levels, in addition to encouraging a healthy immune response. Long-term supplementation may improve tolerance to high intensity exercise. Furthermore, studies suggest that in some populations, cordyceps may support a healthy metabolic threshold, above which lactic acid accumulates.

Now, get outside, get active, and consider using adaptogens to improve performance and overall health. As always, it’s important to consult a health care practitioner and find high-quality sources when using herbs or supplements. 

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The Health Benefits of Eleuthero
The Benefits of American Ginseng

Writer Katie Gerber is a holistic health and nutrition coach serving clients locally in the front range as well as online. In 2014, she completed Aviva Romm’s Herbal Medicine for Women certification. After thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 and the Colorado Trail in 2016, Katie decided to use her botanical medicine and nutrition knowledge to help fellow wilderness lovers seeking more energy and better health. She transitioned from her career as a pastry chef, and enrolled in the Institute for Transformational Nutrition. She now uses her lifelong passion for holistic health with her background in the culinary arts to help people live healthier lives, in alignment with nature. Katie writes for several publications and speaks at local events. When she’s not writing and working with clients, you’ll most likely find her in the mountains, in the garden, or in the kitchen testing recipes. Find out more about Katie, her articles, and her adventures at her website.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.