Herbs For Energy, Stamina and Strength

by admin on August 9, 2014

I am writing this article because I am gearing up for my black belt test in two months. The black belt testing board I will be testing in front of is known to break martial artists down through mental and physical exhaustion to get a look at your strength of spirit, mind and body. Since I entered the field of herbalism/wild foods, I have been fine tuning the science and alchemy of naturally boosting physical and mental performance via nutrition. Since I have experienced a dramatic improvement in my performance, I wish to share my methods of natural performance enhancement. Though many of you will not be undergoing the intensity and stress that I will undergo in my black belt test, remember that this article is every little bit as applicable to the average person simply looking for more physical and mental energy, stamina and strength on a daily basic. This can apply at work, at home with the children, at school, in the weight room or in any other sport/athletic endeavour. I also want you to know that the herbs mentioned have been well studied to improve physical strength, endurance and accuracy of movement. The same herbs are well studied to improve mental performance such as reaction time, mental errors and mental fatigue markers.

What Type/Class Of Herbs Will Be Covered?

I will go in depth on two different types of herbs that give energy to the mind and body. This means one type of herb will boost energy through a different pathway than another. These two classes of herbs are adaptogens and stimulants.

1. Adaptogens- The bulk of my energy will be going into adaptogens as they are extremely healthful to consume every day as foods and generally are free of side effects. All adaptagens come with extreme physiological benefits. Adaptogens are the highest revered herbs in all of herbalism. What is an adaptogen?

For a reference, ginseng is an adaptogen that most have heard of, they just do not understand how it works or how powerful it is. Adaptogens are substances which, when administered into the body, 1. protect and desensitize the body from nonspecific stress (any type of stressor, heat, sleep deprivation, inflammation, exhaustion, physical trauma etc.). 2. Regulate homeostasis, think of an adaptogen as a thermostat. An adaptogen has the ability to balance both excesses and deficiencies in the body. Example: when the immune system is running to high (autoimmune disorders), and adaptogen assists the body in down regulating the immune system. When the immune system is low, an adaptogen up regulates the immunity to create a strong immune defence. Adaptogens also have this same regulating effect on the hormonal system which is where dramatic health benefits are felt. 3. Brings no side effects and can be consumed daily in great quantities to safely build health and longevity through balance and nourishment.

Though adaptogens seem very gentle in their balancing action, understand that they are extremely powerful at the same time. Some of the adaptogens I will mention have been well studied to increase physical endurance by about 25%. However long you could last, you could go a quarter further simply by consuming the most powerful natural foods on Earth. Remember this applies equally to daily energy as much as athletic performance. Everyone truly will benefit from adaptogenic herbs.

2. Stimulants- Stimulants boost energy in a more direct and harsh fashion. These herbs do not classify as adaptogens because they do bring side effects and they do not have that intelligent modulating effect in the body. These herbs naturally contain stimulants like caffeine, theobromine and ephedrine to stimulate the nervous system. Basically, when consuming stimulants, you are chemically pushing your body to go harder than it normally goes. Energy, endurance and focus certainly are increased through stimulation. Though one should not consume stimulants every day, they certainly do have their place in performance enhancement. I like to use adaptogens daily to increase energy, lower stress response and guard my health. I like to use stimulants on special occasions (1-4 times per month) of course with the adaptogens when I really need peak performance. Using natural stimulants at this frequency certainly is not harmful, in fact I believe it to be healthful. I always take adaptogens with the stimulants as the adaptogens do provide protection for the nervous system against the cortisol/adrenaline spike seen with stimulation. Remember, stimulants are creating a stress response, this is where the energy effect comes from and adaptogens protect (what do they not protect us from?) the body from the harms of stress response. I do not recommend one rely on stimulants to provide energy for everyday life. For everyday life, adaptogens reign king… And queen.

Alright let us look at the most powerful and famous energy herbs. I will start with adaptogens and finish with stimulants.

herbs-for-energy-stamina-strength

1. Schizandra Berry is often looked at as the most powerful adaptogen on Earth. I agree but I think there is a tie for first and will mention the other on number 2. Many master herbalists say that if you were only to take one herb, schizandra is the one. This colorful berry lowers cortisol (stress) which enables you to physically and mentally go for much longer. Schizandra has been studied to improve the physical performance and recovery time of sprint horses, at doses that I myself have used. If a handful of berries can mean the difference between first and last place with 1 ton sprint horses, imagine what that handful of berries will do for a little human! A more cruel study showed that when rats were oxygen deprived and stuck in a deep pool of water, the ones who had consumed schizandra berry lasted significantly longer without drowning. Schizandra berry is known as the most balances adaptogen as it contains all 5 major flavors, each protecting and nourishing one of the 5 major organ systems of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is truly a flavor explosion in the mouth.

Schizandra is extremely well studied in its benefits. I often describe its effects as turning one into a super hero. Multiple studies have shown it to increase physical and mental capacity and provide a stress-protective effect against a wide variety of harmful factors including heat shock, skin burn, cold stress, frostbite, immobilisation, swimming under load while oxygen deprived, aseptic inflammation, irradiation and heavy metal intoxication. Further studies have definitively shown schizandra to increase endurance and accuracy of movement and mental performance as well as working capacity. Does This not sound like Superman’s secret? To learn more about schizandra, check out my article here.

2. Gynostemma- Too many people have not heard of this relative of the cucumber.  Gynostemma was actually only recently discovered by the world as it naturally grows in the southern mountains of China and North Vietnam.

herbs-for-energy-stamina-strength

Image credit to Maja Dumat on Flickr

Gynostemma has been studied to increase stamina. One study noted an increased tolerance to fatigue in forced swimming and hanging models in mice as well as increased tolerance to depleted oxygen. Also worth noting is gynostemma’s cardiac strengthening effects. Another study showed that gypenosides decreased heart rate, increased stroke volume, dilated blood vessels, and reduced blood pressure while slightly increasing cardiac output. When your heart is stronger like this, things like walking up and down the stairs, playing with the kids or fighting as a martial artist will be much easier and you will not lose your breath as quickly as you used to. This really only brushes the surface of gynostemma’s health benefits but gives you an idea for this energy article.

3. Ashwagandha- Another powerful adaptogen, this is among my favorites. It may best the best adaptogen for reducing stress (cortisol) while enhancing physical and mental performance. In fact I use it for both helping me get to sleep and for increasing my strength and endurance as a martial artist. This is the dual directional essence of adaptogens.

One very relevant study showed that after 8 weeks of ashwagandha supplementation 1 gram per day, elite cyclists VO2 max increased by an average of 13%. This is the maximal oxygen intake and measures the subjects stamina. In the same study the cyclists time to exhaustion increased by over 10%. This basically means that ashwagandha supplementation increased stamina, allowing cyclists to go harder longer. Another benefit of ashwagandha is that like caffeine, it increases mental clarity and focus but without stimulating. This makes it an outstanding daily energy and performance booster.

4. Eleuthero- Once known as Siberian ginseng, this adaptogen is very common in the athletic performance field and also the non athlete looking for more energy. Though its active compounds are similar to those in ginseng, I recommend eleuthero as it is much cheaper and highly effective none the less. Just like ashwagandha, eleuthero lowers stress hormones  while increasing physical and mental performance. An 8 week study showed those consuming 800mg eleuthero had a 12% increase in their VO2 max as well as a staggering 23% increase in endurance time (example: how long you can run at a certain pace or hold a plank). That is a one fourth increase in endurance taking just 800mg of a herb daily. Eleuthero has also been studied to increase anaerobic power output (high intensity power) for those interested in that.

Stimulants

Stimulants are well understood by most and so I will not go as in depth. I will discuss caffeine sources for those special situations where stimulation is needed to get you through your day, competition, test or whatever else. Caffeine has been well studied to increase physical endurance as well as memory retention. Though there are other varieties of stimulants, they are less specific and there are legality issues.

Dosage

Caffeine improves physical performance with a minimum dosage of 2 mg per kg of body weight. Maximum results are seen at 5-6 mg per kg of weight. This maximum dose would be about 340-400 mg of caffeine for a 150 person. This is the amount of caffeine is 14-17 oz of drip brewed coffee.

Sources

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Image credit to Pen Waggener on Flickr

1. Coffee is the most common source and is actually a very nutritionally dense drink with great health benefits. One average cup of coffee should do with 14-17 oz being the dosage required for peak performance simulation in a 150 lb individual.

2. Tea is another great stimulant that one can use if coffee make you too jittery. The reason is that tea contains theanine which slows brain waves down and provides a calming effect. One 8 oz serving contains just 26 mg of caffeine though so more will be required for maximum stimulation.

3. Yerba Mate is an excellent south American caffeine drink which contains a caffeine and nutritional profile that is less apt to causing anxiety and jitters. Mate contains about 70 mg of caffeine per 8 oz serving.

When To Use Caffeine

Caffeine should ideally not be used daily, in fact for best results, you should avoid caffeine six days prior to use in competition or any other event requiring stimulation. This insures optimal benefits from caffeine.

Summary

There are indeed many herbs that allow us to function at a higher energy level. In fact, I would call adaptogenic herbs “the missing link” to modern human wellness and energy. I personally always make sure that I am always on 2-3 different adaptogenic herbs like the ones mention here. When times are getting tough, do not be afraid to stimulate through it. Only stimulate while on adaptogens and up the dosage of them as well. Of course the first thing that should always be done is check your lifestyle. Are you getting enough sleep, eating junk, staying active and living with a positive mindset?

 

 

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