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Can Adaptogens Boost Sports Performance?


What is an adaptogen? An adaptogen helps improve the body’s ability to adapt to environmental stressors such as fatigue related to sleep deprivation or intense training, mental health, toxic exposure, extreme temperatures, and infection. Adaptogens can aid with healing but cannot cure or treat any disease. Herbs that claim to be an adaptogen must fit the following criteria:

  • Not cause disruptions but help normalize with normal physiological functions of the body.

  • Improve the body’s resistance against environmental stressors.

How do adaptogens help athletes? Training intensity, fatigue, and pre-competition anxiety are all stressors that many athletes face which can impact recovery and sports performance. Adaptogens can help speed up recovery, improve mental and physical health, and reduce stress, all which can enhance sports performance. What are some common adaptogens for athletes? According to Dr. Stacy Sims, leading sports nutrition researcher, some adaptogens that may benefit athletes include, ashwagandha, holy basil, and rhodiola rodesa. There are many more adaptogens on the market and each can aid with reducing stress, but some may help with your fitness and endurance as well. For example, ashwagandha is an anti-inflammatory, which can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after an intense workout since it lowers stress hormone, cortisol. However, it is not recommended to take ashwagandha if you are on thyroid medications or have a history of hormone-sensitive prostate cancer as it can negatively impact your health and thyroid levels. Holy basil has more of a calming effect and acts as an antioxidant to help support a healthy immune system and reduce stress. Athletes need to be cautious that holy basil can reduce blood-clotting and should not be used if you are also taking a anti-coagulant. Rhodiola rodesa, known as “golden root”, is known to reduce fatigue and improve mental health. It helps to balance melatonin and serotonin to improve sleep but can also improve energy metabolism by enhancing your mitochondria function, the powerhouse of your cells. What are the risks of taking adaptogens Although health claims using adaptogens are promising, human studies are lacking and small. Adaptogens are also not regulated by the FDA, increasing risks of contamination. If you do choose to use an adaptogen, chose ones that have undergone third-party testing, such as USP, NSF Sport, or ConsumerLab.com. Adaptogens are not a cure for disease but can help with recovery and possibly improve sports performance when combined with eating a balanced diet and getting adequate sleep. As with any supplement, consult your physician or a medical provider specializing in herbs before starting any new medication to avoid any drug interactions.

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