Since the 2016 Olympics, we have been enlightened about the incredible benefits of Naturopathic medicine and Acupuncture for athletes, from recovery to increasing gains. There are numerous products currently on the market for sports performance and recovery. Half of those supplements claim to increase endurance or assist you in recovery, but have very negative long term secondary side effects, from interrupting normal hormone patterns to over stressing your adrenals. The other half are also effective, but aren’t scientifically formulated for optimum gains.
Naturopathic medicine provides the best of both worlds. As a Naturopathic doctor who specializes in sports performance I regularly prescribe herbs to assist athletes in increasing their sports performance and to decrease the risk of injury. Herbs, when used correctly, have incredible benefits whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional athlete. Below are my top picks to increase endurance and recovery in athletes. Used properly, they allow for exponential gains in your workout and training regimens.
Dr. Schmeck’s Top 5 Herbs for Sports Performance
Rhodiola helps improve oxygen transfer from the lungs to red blood cells; the cells of the blood responsible for oxygen transfer. One mechanism for rhodiola’s anti-fatigue effects is an improvement of oxygen efficiency in the body. Individuals living at high altitude (5,380 meters) have benefited from the effects of rhodiola supplementation by showing increased blood oxygen levels, longer time it takes to reach exhaustion, VO2 max, and lung ventilation during endurance exercise.
2) Eleuthero and Ashwagandha
Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) and Ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) provide your body increased resistance to physical stress and at the same time increases energy levels. Both herbs are used in traditional medicine as “adaptogens” to help the body adapt to stressful situations. This is done by supporting your adrenals, decreasing cortisol levels, and likelihood of burnout. Eleuthero tends to be more “energizing,” and is used by the Russian Army to assist cadets in surviving training. Rhodiola allows you to decrease recovery time after strenuous exercise and allows your body to react more positively to extreme stress. It provides an overall balancing effect on your system.
Cordyceps helps speed transfer of oxygen from red blood cells to mitochondria- the organelle responsible for making energy (ATP). It is a Tibetan mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for “lung protection” and to balance “Qi” — the fundamental “energy of life.” In clinical studies, using cordyceps results in significant improvement in fatigue, oxygen uptake, and endurance exercise performance.
Eurycoma balances two important hormones in the body —cortisol and testosterone. It is a root, often called Malaysian ginseng, that is used as a traditional remedy in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam to help individuals “adapt” to the reduced energy and depressed mood that often come with chronic stress on the body and overtraining.
Eurycoma contains a group of small peptides that are effective in restoring the balance between cortisol and testosterone, an essential balance to promote endurance and energy levels during physical activity.
This list only scratches the surface of the alternative medicines, from the infamous cupping seen at the Olympics to herbals and natural supplementation, that can be used to further advance your training fitness goals. Always check with your Naturopathic doctor before beginning any exercise program or natural supplementation.
Cynthia Schmeck, ND, MSc, NASM-CPT
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