Adoptogens + Athletes
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are compounds that act as metabolic regulators and help promote homeostasis within the body by decreasing cellular sensitivity to stress. Many modern medicines work to turn off inflammation in the body. While that might seem great, inflammation is a natural and needed process. These substances are thought to act more like a dial than an on-off switch; allowing you to respond in a very acute and personal way to your bodies metabolic processes.
Why is that beneficial for athletes?
Serious athletes are prone to stress in a major way. Mentally, there is competition, pressure, and strict schedules to keep up with. Physically, there is the muscle + cardiovascular impact to deal with. Adaptogens can help restore the balances between systems. Since they work on an acute, individualized level, they have the ability to help decrease one area and increase another at the same time. Think low stress + more energy! Sounds great right? Another benefit touted by adaptogens is their ability to increase the body's use of oxygen. Athletes know that more oxygen available typically leads to more performance gains due to prolonged endurance and reduced fatigue rate. Certain adaptogens like Cordyceps are studied mostly for their suspected ability to increase VO2Max and therefore overall endurance performance.
In addition to their homeostatic benefits, many have high amounts of trace minerals such as iron, copper, calcium and amino acids to promote nutritional functions and overall well-being.
These substances are popular among Ayurvedic medicine for prevent or 'medicines for the healthy'. Adaptogens include: Licorice, Maca, Cordyceps (mushroom), Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Reishi, Goji, Milk Thistle, Aloe, among many others.
How to incorporate adaptogens:
Most of these are found in pill, powder, and extract form. Personally, I am most fond of powders as they provide the ability to mix n match without over doing dosages. Each substance has a unique flavor and profile. Some will work best in combination and others alone. For example, Ashwagandha is bitter and is thought to help with insomnia and muscle spasms while Red Maca is slightly earthy and sweet and can boost mood and endurance. Depending on your personal needs, you might want Maca before a workout and Ashwagandha post workout or on rest days. Smoothies are a great way to begin including adaptogens, but don't limit yourself! The powders can be stirred into yogurts, oats, chia pudding, breads/muffin mixes, energy bars, rice, dressings, mylks and lattes, etc...
Is this legit?
Of course, there are limited studies to back up the claims of these holistic claims. Don't let that stop you from using them! While scientific proof is valued, the lack of it is mostly due to low funding. There are several studies on each adaptogen that point to a benefit. There are typically just as many that claim no significant findings at all. The studies that do exist are typically carried out on very small populations which do not translate into generalizable data, however it does help suggest possibilities and potential.
In the end, a healthy body should be maintained and optimized and adaptogens can assist (at least won't harm!) a healthful, preventative lifestyle. Athletic bodies need to take general health to the next level to ensure top performance, speedy wound/injury healing, increased energy levels and improved overall metabolic processes.
Where to buy adaptogens?
You can find these at most Whole Foods + Health Stores. Finding reputable sources is a must as these products are supplements and therefore not thoroughly regulated.
Try not to let the price tags shock you. Stocking your pantry with these items can get a bit expensive, but think of it as an investment on your health and potentially your athletic performance. Since the dosing is very small, a little goes a long way so there you won't be replenishing your supplies often!