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The NFM Blog

Adaptogens for Athletes: Benefits, Types & How to Supplement

It’s hard being an athlete, the constant pursuit of peak performance is a struggle as the demands from the body are at an all-time high. It's a journey that requires pushing the body to its limits while ensuring optimal recovery. But what if there were natural tools that could help one elevate their game, enhance their resilience, and optimize their training? Enter the fascinating world of adaptogens.

Adaptogens: Nature's All-Stars for Athletes

Adaptogens are a unique class of herbs and fungi that have been used for centuries in traditional medicine. What makes them special is their ability to "adapt" to the body's specific needs. They act as intelligent regulators, helping the body cope with stress, a crucial factor for athletes.

The Power of Adaptogens for Peak Performance: 

Imagine a scenario where one can train harder, recover faster, and experience less stress throughout the training journey. Adaptogens can potentially offer this very advantage. Let's delve deeper into how adaptogens can support athletes by focusing on three key areas: energy, stress resilience, and recovery.

  • Energy Boost: Whether you're a sprinter needing explosive energy or an endurance athlete seeking sustained power, adaptogens can be game-changers. Some adaptogens, like Rhodiola Rosea, can enhance energy production at the cellular level, potentially delaying fatigue and improving exercise capacity. Studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggest that Rhodiola supplementation can improve time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise protocols.

  • Stress Resilience: Training itself is a form of stress. Adaptogens like Ashwagandha can help regulate the stress response by lowering cortisol, the body's stress hormone. This can translate to improved focus, better sleep, and faster recovery from intense training sessions. A 2017 review published in the journal Pharmaceuticals found that Ashwagandha supplementation significantly reduced anxiety and stress markers in participants.

  • Recovery Revolution: Adaptogens can act as anti-inflammatory allies, aiding in muscle repair and reducing post-workout soreness. Additionally, some adaptogens, like Cordyceps, might improve oxygen utilization, allowing your body to recover more efficiently. Research published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms suggests that Cordyceps supplementation can improve exercise performance and reduce fatigue in athletes.

Understanding Adaptogens: A Deep Dive

Now that we've explored the benefits, let's get down to the specifics.

  • Definition and Function: Adaptogens work by interacting with the body's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, the command center for the stress response. When the body perceives stress, the HPA axis kicks in, leading to cortisol production. Adaptogens can help regulate this response, promoting a more balanced internal environment.

  • Types of Adaptogens: The adaptogen kingdom is vast and includes herbs like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola, as well as non-herbal powerhouses like medicinal mushrooms such as Cordyceps and Reishi. For instance, Non-Fungible Mushrooms offers a range of Mushroom Adaptogen Powders which is a unique blend designed for specific needs. The LIFT blend, for example, combines Cordyceps, Reishi, Yerba Mate, Muira Puama, and Beetroot extracts to ensure that athletes get more out of their workouts.

  • Adaptogens vs. Non-Adaptogens: Unlike stimulants that provide a temporary energy boost, adaptogens work holistically to regulate the body's stress response. This translates to long-term benefits rather than a quick, artificial fix. They also differ from common sports supplements like creatine or protein powders. While creatine can enhance muscular strength and power, and protein powder supports muscle growth and repair, adaptogens offer a broader range of benefits that go beyond just muscle function.

Top Adaptogens for Peak Athletic Performance:

Not all adaptogens are created equal. Here's a breakdown of some of the most potent adaptogens for athletes:

  1. Ashwagandha: This "King of Adaptogens" is a stress-busting champion. By lowering cortisol, Ashwagandha can promote better sleep, improve focus, and enhance recovery. Research published in the journal The Aging Male found that Ashwagandha supplementation improved muscular strength and power in resistance-trained athletes.
  2. Rhodiola Rosea: Also known as "Golden Root," Rhodiola Rosea is an energy powerhouse. It may help enhance endurance and combat fatigue, allowing you to train harder for longer. A 2019 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that Rhodiola supplementation improved exercise performance in athletes.
  3. Cordyceps: This legendary adaptogenic mushroom is renowned for its performance-enhancing properties. Cordyceps may improve VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize during exercise) and boost energy levels. Research published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Doping Studies suggests that Cordyceps supplementation can improve VO2 max and exercise capacity in athletes.
  4. Ginseng: A staple in Eastern medicine, Ginseng can be a valuable tool for athletes. It may improve blood flow, enhance mental focus, and aid in recovery from exercise-induced fatigue. A 2012 review published in the journal Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that Ginseng supplementation positively impacted exercise performance in athletes.
  5. Schisandra: This adaptogenic berry offers a multifaceted approach to athletic performance. It boasts antioxidant properties, which can help protect cells from damage during intense training, and may also support a healthy immune system. A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients showed that Schisandra supplementation improved exercise performance and reduced oxidative stress in athletes.

Specific Benefits for Athletes

Let's translate the science of adaptogens into tangible benefits for athletes:

  • Improved Endurance and Stamina: Adaptogens like Rhodiola and Cordyceps can potentially delay fatigue and enhance your ability to sustain high-intensity exercise. A review published in the journal Sports Medicine concluded that adaptogens have the potential to improve endurance performance in athletes.

  • Enhanced Stress Resilience: Adaptogens can be your secret weapon against exercise-induced stress. By regulating cortisol levels, they can promote better sleep, improve focus, and contribute to a more balanced mood. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggests that adaptogens can effectively reduce stress and anxiety in athletes.

  • Increased Blood Flow and Oxygen Capacity: Adaptogens like Ginseng may improve blood flow, delivering vital oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, potentially enhancing performance and recovery. A study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that Ginseng supplementation improved blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles during exercise.

  • Anti-inflammatory Effects and Faster Recovery: Some adaptogens, like Ashwagandha and Curcumin (often found in turmeric), possess anti-inflammatory properties. This can reduce muscle soreness and inflammation, accelerating the recovery process and allowing you to get back to training sooner. Research published in the journal The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that Curcumin supplementation can reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery after exercise.

  • Enhanced Mental Focus and Cognitive Function: Adaptogens like Lion's Mane mushroom may support cognitive function and memory. This can be particularly beneficial for athletes requiring mental clarity and focus during training and competition. A review published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that Lion's Mane supplementation showed promise in improving cognitive function and memory.

Adaptogen Supplementation Strategies

Now that the potential of adaptogens has been explored, let's find out how to incorporate them into a routine:

  • Dosage Recommendations and Timing: Optimal dosages vary depending on the specific adaptogen, your individual needs, and your training program. It's always best to consult a healthcare professional or a qualified nutritionist for personalized guidance. Generally, adaptogens are taken daily for a sustained effect, and timing can be crucial. Some adaptogens, like Rhodiola, might be best taken before workouts for an energy boost, while others, like Ashwagandha, might be more beneficial before bed to promote sleep quality.

  • Integration into Your Routine: Adaptogens come in various forms, including capsules, powders, and teas. Capsules offer a convenient and controlled option, while powders can be easily incorporated into smoothies or other beverages. Adaptogenic teas are a great way to warm up before training or unwind after a session. For instance, NFM offers adaptogen mushroom powder blends that cater to specific needs. Their LIFT blend incorporates ingredients like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola to promote focus and energy, while their SLEEP blend utilizes Reishi and other calming adaptogens to support restful sleep.

  • Consult a Healthcare Professional: It's essential to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications. Adaptogens, while generally safe, can interact with certain medications.

  • Quality and Reputable Brands: Choose adaptogens from reputable brands that prioritize organic sourcing and sustainable practices. Look for third-party certifications to ensure product quality and purity.

Adaptogenic Mushrooms: A Special Focus 

  • Reishi: This revered mushroom is known for its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. Reishi can help athletes stay healthy and avoid training disruptions due to illness. A study published in the journal International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that Reishi supplementation improved immune function and reduced inflammation in athletes.
  • Lion's Mane: This "smart mushroom" shows promise in supporting cognitive function and focus. Lion's Mane might be beneficial for athletes who require mental clarity and memory during training and competition. A study published in the Biomedical Journal found that Lion's Mane supplementation improved cognitive performance in healthy adults.
  • Chaga: This adaptogenic mushroom is packed with antioxidants and boasts potential anti-inflammatory properties. Chaga may help athletes combat oxidative stress caused by intense training and reduce muscle soreness. Research published in the journal Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine suggests that Chaga supplementation has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Safety Considerations and Potential Side Effects

Adaptogens are generally well-tolerated, but it's important to be aware of potential side effects. Some individuals might experience mild digestive issues, headaches, or sleep disturbances when starting to take adaptogens. It's always best to begin with a low dose and gradually increase as needed.

Remember: Adaptogens are not magic pills for athletic success. They work best when combined with a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and a well-structured training program. It is also important to note that since athletes are involved, it is important that all the supplements that are taken are tested for banned substances as it could hamper the participation of the athletes in any major tournaments.

The Future of Adaptogens in Sports Performance

Research on the potential benefits of adaptogens for athletes is ongoing. As more studies are conducted, we can expect a deeper understanding of how these natural tools can optimize athletic performance and support overall well-being. The beauty of adaptogens lies in their ability to adapt to individual needs. Experiment with different options under the guidance of a qualified professional to discover the adaptogenic blend that elevates your athletic journey. 

Non-Fungible Mushrooms look to elevate your living by ensuring both the workouts as well as the recovery are at an optimal rate. Enhance your workouts with LIFT & ensure you get a deep sleep with a full recovery with SLEEPMushroom Adaptogen Powders. Embrace the power of nature and unlock the full potential, one mindful step at a time!