It’s no exaggeration when I say there are literally hundreds of supplements to choose from in your local health food store … and this doesn’t even touch the surface of the thousands more you can find online.
Because of this, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when wondering which ones truly have something substantial to offer (and are actually healthy), and which are simply trying to sell a trend.
To begin, I always recommend getting as much nutrition as possible from whole, fresh foods, while using supplements sparingly to make sure your “basics” are covered (vitamins and minerals, protein, omega 3’s, etc …). However, there are some supplements that aren’t necessarily “basics” when it comes to human biology … but that when you’re living a modern lifestyle and trying to boost your performance, can be extremely beneficial.
One group of these supplements are called “adaptogens.”
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a special class of plants that have been in use for thousands of years. They are referred to as “adaptogens” due to their ability to help your body adapt to stress in a more beneficial way. Stress, whether physiological or mental/emotional, can be extremely damaging to almost every system in your body, and adaptogens can help mitigate this damage before it occurs.
One of the earlier studies on adaptogens occurred during World War II, when scientists were looking for a solution to help pilots fly better, faster, and longer (aka: become “super-pilots”). That solution was adaptogens, specifically Schisandra chinensis.
The Soviet Union also took an interest in adaptogenic plants after observing that Schisandra berries and seeds eaten by Nanai hunters reduced their thirst, hunger, and fatigue, and even improved their ability to see at night.
In fact, the Russians became so interested in the potentials of adaptogenic plants that they began experimenting with Rhodiola Rosea, an herb native to Siberia, to not only give their Olympic Athletes an edge, but also for use in military, and even space programs to help astronauts handle the stressors of space. As such, the information gathered on Rhodiola was kept top-secret until the fall of the Soviet empire.
Benefits of Adaptogens For Performance
Because of the ability of adaptogens to bolster the body against intense physiological stress, modern research has shown extremely positive benefits when it comes to performance.
Studies have shown that adaptogenic plants help reduce fatigue and increase mental and physical resilience, alongside increased attention, precision, and stress resistance.
Other studies have also shown that adaptogens can help beneficially regulate energy during stress, positively affecting metabolism of carbs.
Rhodiola rosea in particular was found to reduce both lactate levels AND measures of skeletal muscle damage after an intense exercise session, meaning that it can possibly help you work out longer before you fatigue, plus recover faster (now we see why the Russians were so secretive about it!).
Another study involving male college studies – one group that took an adaptogen supplement and a seperate control group – showed that after 8 weeks, adaptogen supplementation enhanced endurance time, elevated cardiovascular functions, and altered metabolism.
To top all of this off, adaptogens have been found to help reduce cortisol levels, which is the “stress hormone” that can cause weight gain (especially around your belly) and make it more difficult to burn fat.
Overall, research is extremely positive regarding adaptogens. And the great thing is, the mental benefits (enhanced clarity, ability to focus for longer periods of time, more energy) extend across your entire life as well, not just training.
Supplementing With Adaptogens
To be classified as a true adaptogen, plants have to go through testing to determine specific factors. The following adaptogens have gone through that testing, so I recommend grabbing one of them OR a blend like Onnit’s Total Human below:
• Rhodiola Rosea
• American Ginseng
• Eleuthero, or Siberian ginseng