No one is really sure when humans first used herbs, roots, and other plants for medicinal purposes. There are some evidence-based estimates confirming how this practice goes back thousands of years. At the same time, no one’s really sure about how far back herbal medication has been practiced by human society. What we’re sure of is that it works — what our ancient ancestors knew about the medicinal properties of certain plants can be confirmed by modern scientific testing. So, with that in mind, here are five of the most researched and effective athletic performance enhancing herbs you can try.
This Amazon region’s native plant contains higher amounts of caffeine compared to most other plants, as well as the alkaloids theophylline, theobromine, and others. It’s basically a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that increases mental vigilance and fights the effects of fatigue. Its seeds are also used for treating headaches, diarrhea, urinary tract infection, paralysis, and obesity. Keep in mind that just like coffee which shares its main active component, guarana shouldn’t be taken by anyone suffering from anxiety.
This herb boosts performance in two ways. It decreases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. It can calm down people experiencing chronic stress or burnout, allowing them to conserve energy that would otherwise be used during a stress response. Rhodiola also enhances alpha waves in the brain, increasing presence of mind, alertness, and overall calmness. The only caveat is that it may take some time for whoever uses the herb to feel its benefits. Dr. Svetlana Stivi of Parsley Health notes that it can take two to three months for rhodiola to take effect, so don’t expect instant results. Dr. Stivi also explains that rhodiola can be particularly helpful to those with depression that has been caused by fatigue.
Although not technically an herb, the fungi cordyceps made the list for the impressive way it boosts energy and reduces fatigue at a cellular level. Its main active component is adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an organic chemical which scientists call the “molecular unit of currency.” This is because ATP is used by the human body, and virtually all living things, to provide energy to living processes like muscle contraction and nerve impulse propagation. This means better endurance as well as physical energy.
Perhaps the most popular herb on the list, ginseng is a CNS stimulant that comes in many forms. While
Acupuncture Today explains that there’s conflicting research on how ginseng affects physical and mental performance, many athletes can confirm that it improves aerobic capacity and heart rate. This makes it particularly useful for those involved in sports that require rapid reactions, quick thinking, and good lungs. Ginseng is one of the most widely used herbal remedies for improving performance.
Respiratory conditions, night sweats, diabetes, and insomnia are among the common conditions that can be improved by schisandra. This particular herb is another CNS stimulant that can increase presence of mind and even coordination, except unlike fellow CNS stimulants like caffeine or methamphetamine, schisandra doesn’t cause excitatory responses. This means that it’s a good source of energy and focus while also combating stress. Additionally, the way it fights insomnia is a large boost to performance. Like ginseng, schisandra has been consistently used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Just remember to consult a doctor or nutritionist before using any of the above herbs. They may react with certain medications you’re taking or complicate an existing condition. While these herbs can significantly improve athletic ability, they also come with a certain degree of responsibility.