HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS FOR ATHLETES
1.Nutritional Requirements of Athletes
Performance is a function of fitness. Provision of appropriate nutrients is directly related to human health and fitness. Exercise and sports activities strengthen the muscles, but this purpose cannot be achieved without providing an appropriate diet.
Since ordinary foods purchased from the local market do not contain all the essential nutrients required for normal health, physicians generally prescribe supplements to meet the human nutritional needs. The nutritional requirements of athletes are even more, which they need to fulfill through taking extra nutritional supplements.
Most of the food supplements available in the market often contain ingredients that appear to provide an immediate benefit, but in the long-run, their effects are detrimental to human health. There is a continuously increasing debate between the use of organic and inorganic foods and nutritional supplements.
According to the latest research findings, the safest way to fulfill the nutritional needs is from natural sources. In this regard, the research regarding the use of herbal supplements has tremendously increased recently.
Whether or not the herbal supplements can meet the human body’s additional needs of sportsmen, is yet to be established through comprehensive research. Hence, this article discusses the salient findings of recent research articles and online published data to assess the possibility of meeting the normal and additional nutrient needs for sportsmen.
2.Ergogenic Supplements for Athletes
In a scientific report published in 2018 in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition”, Sellami et al reported that many athletes use natural plants and herbal supplements to get various benefits. Although herbal supplements don’t cure completely to any problem, yet the major motive of the athletes is to avoid the side effects of synthetic food supplements and traditional medicines.
Today, many athletes have turned to various dietetic interventions, including the use of natural products based on herbs and plants to avoid risk from the synthetic drug.The most important herbs used as organic supplements include ginseng, green tea extracts, ephedra extracts without ephedrine, rhodiola, and astragalus.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. has classified herbal supplements under the category “dietary supplements”. Herbs and plant extracts can be used for enhancing muscle growth, burning fats, improvement of endurance, stamina, and performance, and pain relievers.
3.Herbs for Enhanced Metabolism
Usually, people do exercise in the morning. A healthy person at most can store about 2000 and 400 calories in muscles and liver, respectively, which is a very minute quantity. At morning, the glycogen reserves of the body particularly low, because of overnight fasting. Hence, quick energy is required through dietary sources before starting the workout.
Highly digestible carbohydrates are useful in this regard. Taking energy drinks is the norm, but it can be harmful because of several artificial ingredients. Since herbs can serve as natural alternatives, opting for herbal extracts and dried herbal supplements before exercise and sports activities is a viable solution as compared to traditional medicines.
Green tea is an important herb being used since centuries which contributes to the metabolism of digestible carbohydrates, hence supplies the desirable energy in a natural way for exercise and sports. It promotes blood supply to exercising tissues, oxygen supply for quick energy bursts, and antioxidants.
In addition, antioxidants augment the natural defense system of humans against free radicals produced during exercise.Several physiological processes get started in the body during exercise and sports. Herbs can serve as adaptogens. Adaptogens stabilize the homeostasis of physiological processes of body.
Few examples of adaptogenic herbs include ginseng, maca, and basil. These mediate the homeostasis of body by regulating the action of several indigenous hormones.
4.Herbs for Muscle Growth and Repair
Following a workout, muscles need proteins and amino acids to repair the damaged tissues, while need carbohydrates to replenish the depleted reservoirs of glycogen. Slimeni et al (2017) reported in a scientific article published in the “MedicinaDello Sport” that supplementation of the fruit of myrtle herb increased the serum proteins in the athletes, hence could be beneficial for muscle growth and repair after exercise.
The functioning of these herbs is because of their bioactive components, including myricetin and its glycoside derivatives, as well as polyphenols and anthocyanins. In addition, free radicals produced during exercise pose a serius threat to muscle tissues.
Moringa is an important herb that has been gaining research focus these days. About 5 to 10% (v/v) moringa extract in beet juice not only improves the taste but also enhances its nutritional benefits. Similarly, turmeric extract supports the natural inflammatory response of muscles tissues against stress, hence prevent the threat of free radicals.
Additionally, curcumin present in turmeric extracts supports immune function. Similarly, the extract of boswellia leaves is also useful in promoting the inflammatory response, hence contribute to the tissues repair required after sports and exercise. In addition, green tea metabolizes light sugars hence it can slightly contribute to muscle repair and development after muscle-building exercises.
5.Endurance Improvement with Herbal Supplements
Endurance is the capability of long-distance athletes to stay energetic. The roots of ginseng in Chinese culture is considered yin tonic, as it improves endurance. The dried ginseng roots have been widely used in many cultures including Americans, though many variants are available. These augment endurance through enhancing oxygen uptake during the long-distance runs and intense exercises.
Moreover, these contribute to enhanced metabolism of lactic acid, hence provide additional benefits in the regulation of the population of gut microbiota, which in turn reduce colon pH, enhance nutrient solubility and uptake, as well as the control the invading pathogenic intruders.
In a scientific report published in 2018 in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition”, Sellami et al reported that several herbal supplements have a low to moderate effect on endurance capacity of athletes. Similarly, jiaogulan and schisandra berry are herbs that can improve endurance.
6.Herbs for Improving Stamina of Athletes
Stamina is an important property of athletes, which helps them to withstand sudden and extended stress. Several adaptogenicherbs can serve as stamina improvers by improving the immune function of the body against the free radicals produced.
Sports and exercises increase the rate of metabolism of the athletes, hence the number of free radicals produced exceeds the amounts of indigenous chemicals capable of coping these hazardous chemicals. Several herbs, such as ginseng, maca, and basil leaves can regulate the immune function by catering these free radicals, hence improve stamina.
Moreover, supplementation of several alkaloids also augments the performance during intense exercises. Ephedrine is chemically a prohibited alkaloid that constricts blood vessels to enhance muscle strength. Ephedra is the source of ephedrine, and its extracts without ephedrine are available legally.
Similarly, Benayad et al (2014) reported in “International Journal of Molecular Sciences” that fenugreek is another herb that contains several bioactive compounds. Its seeds contain alkaloids that improve endurance capacity. However, some people may experience an allergy to fenugreek seeds. Cordyceps and magnolia berry are herbs that can boost stamina.
7.Herbs for Muscle Strength
Normally, a muscle undergoes minor tears after mild stretches and light exercise. The natural repairing system of the body produce new muscles in place of damaged ones, hence the muscles get stronger as a result of exercise. However, the recovery process needs several essential ingredients, which are supplied from dietary resources.
Whist several pharmaceuticals are used to provide the necessary fuel for muscle repair, several side effects are associated with them. Hence, herbs can serve as natural remedies for these ailments. The effectiveness of these herbs has been proven since centuries. Particularly, extracts of Camellia sinensis alone, as well as a combination with other natural drinks, contribute to endurance, through enhanced metabolism of digestible carbohydrates.
In a study published in the journal of “Advances in Therapy”, Knuesel et al (2002) reported that a perennial herb, Arnica, improved the muscle strength. The bioactive compounds present in arnica included arnicin, Coumarins, flavonoids, thymol, and carotenoids, which could be responsible for the beneficial effects of this herb for muscle strengthening. However, its overdose should be avoided, as its higher oral doses could cause skin irritation, as well as death.
8.HerbalSupplements for Mass Improvement
Green tea extracts contain alkaloids that contribute to body mass enhancement of sportsmen. Sellami et al (2018) suggested in a scientific study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” that positive physiological development of sportsmen from herbal supplements was attributed to the presence of several bioactive phytochemicals in them, which included polyphenols, terpenoids, and alkaloids, carotenoids.
The polyphenols include phenolic acids, alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, saponins, and lignans,etc. These herbal supplementscould be used to increase the strength and mass of muscles. However, concrete scientific evidence is needed to evaluate the safety of each herbal supplements.
9.Performance Enhancement with Herbal Supplements
The improvement in the performance associated with the use of organic ergogenic supplements has a chemical basis. Sellami et al (2018) reported in a scientific study published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” that herbal supplements stimulate catecholamines to improve the performance of sportsmen through activation of the central nervous system.
Another performance improvement mechanism is by stimulating mental vigilance. Herbal extracts such as Thermadrene, Guarana, Caffeine, Purple Willow Bark, Cayenne, pepper and Ginger root, stimulate mental vigilance through burning fats in the liver. Moreover, adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng contain chemicals namely ginsenosides, which boost the function of central nervous systems, hence improve the cognitive abilities of athletes. Particularly, the goji berry is a herb that can provide energy and boosts cognitive abilities.
In another study, Chen et al (2002) reported that the supplementation astragalus herb could increase the performance of athletes. However, higher supplemental doses of astragalus could pose side effects on the immune system. Turmeric extracts can also be incorporated in fruit juices, as it supports healthy joints and locomotory function. Similarly, Boswellia also promotes blood flow to the locomotory organs and connective tissues, hence useful during exercise and sports activities.
10.Cure of Muscle Fatigue with Herbs
Muscle fatigue is the first byproduct of starting an exercise after a long time. Due to the production of lactic acid in the muscles, the muscles get jammed, hence locomotion becomes difficult and painful. Astragalus is a herb that can alleviate muscle fatigue. Similarly, rhodiola is another herb that can reduce fatigue.
In addition, Kurashige et al (1999) reported in a scientific study published in the journal of “Cancer Investigation” that a perennial herb, Astragalus, could improve the immune system. The active components of Astragalus were saponins. Saponins could plan an important role in the treatment of inflammation, hence cure muscle fatigue after exercise and sports activities.
In another study published in 2002 in the journal of “Advances in Therapy”, Knuesel et al reported that supplemental doses of arnica herb decreased the muscle soreness and cell damage of athletes after a marathon.
In a scientific report published in the journal of “Current Sports Medicine Reports”, Eichner et al (2016) reported that supplemental doses of cayenne herb could be used to treat cramps and muscle inflammation. The bioactive compound capsaicin is responsible for the fatigue curing action of cayenne.
11.Stress and Depression Mediation with Herbs
Controlling stress improves health. Sportsmen mostly don’t get stress and depression, as regular physical activities produce such chemicals in their body which mediate stress and depression. However, during competitions, the level of focus and intensity of effort increase tremendously, which sometimes results in high stress.
The adrenal gland produces cortisol in the body during stress conditions. Cortisol helps to tackle an emergency. However, excess production of cortisol can result in excess weight gain.
Stress and circadian clock have interactions, as reported by a scientific study published in the journal of “Neural Plasticity”. In this study, Mariana and Oster (2018) reported that stress could affect circadian rhythms of the body, hence disturb the digestion, eating and sleeping habits. However, sportsmen need nothing to cope with such stress, as their body’s natural defense system alleviates the stress itself by regulating several homeostatic responses.
Besides, several adaptogens can also serve as stress mediators mainly by balancing hormones and boosting the immune system. Moreover, winning and losing are parts of games. Sometimes, losing causes depression in the athletes, which can also be countered with these herbal supplements.
Ashwagandha is a herb that can alleviate stress. Moreover, goji berry improves sleep, hence alleviates stress by controlling the circadian clock. In a scientific report published in 2018 in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition”, Sellami et al reported that several herbal supplements have a low to moderate effect on fatigue resistance.
Similarly, supplementation of eleuthero root dried powder and extracts produce chemicals in the body, which regulate cognitive abilities and alleviate mental fatigue. Extracts of licorice root and turmeric can also mediate the stress response of the bodies and boost cognitive abilities.
In another scientific article published in the “MedicinaDello Sport”, Slimeni et al (2017) reported that fruit of myrtle herb contained linoleic acid that can produce eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are two essential fatty acids. These are omega-3 fatty acids, and make up the brain tissues. Hence, supplementation of the fruit of myrtle herb positively influences the cognitive and decision-making abilities of athletes under stress conditions.
12. Use of Herbs as Pain Relievers
Pain is an important repercussion of sports and exercise, especially at the initial stages. Muscle tissues break down after mild exercise and need time to rebuild. The major threat of using allopathic medicines for relieving muscular pain is that they mostly end up in disturbing stomach. Hence, ayurvedic medicines extracted from herbal sources could be great alternatives.
Herbs can be used to relieve pain associated with sports-related minor muscle damage. Particularly, the bioactive compounds in turmeric produce anti-inflammatory factors in the tissues, hence relieves pain. In addition, Rhodiola and Astragalus are two other herbs reported to relieve muscle and joint pain after exercise.
Similarly, Boswellia leaves extracts also serve as occasional pain relievers. In addition, adaptogens also serve as pain relievers. In a scientific report published in 2004 in “British Medical Journal” that supplemental doses of cayenne herb could significantly reduce pain. The bioactive compound present in cayenne is capsaicin.
13.Herbs for Energy and Motivation
Motivation and inspiration help athletes to deplete their energy for gaining success. Sugar is an instant source of energy. But its hazards are so many that it is often termed as white poison. Athletes need instant energy during games, hence they often use energy drinks. Caffeine is also used in such energy drinks along with high quantities of sugar.
Several herbs can serve as an effective but non-hazardous source of energy naturally. Hence traditional energy drinks can replace sugar and caffeine with herbs. Green tea promotes sugar metabolisms, hence can provide energy.
Moreover, Sellami et al (2018) reported in a scientific report published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” that ginseng could increase the mental alertness and reaction time of reaction time due to a direct effect on the central nervous system.
In a study published in 2006 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, the authors Reay et al reported that ginseng could contribute to enhancing the cognitive abilities of young adults in a scientific study. Rhodiola herb provides energy and has been associated with strengthening.
14. Precautions and Recommendations
- Before exercise, people often take energy drinks. Because of the use of several artificial additives, these energy drinks can be harmful, especially early in the morning. Hence, the use of natural energy boosters is preferred over ordinary energy drinks.
- Sportsmen often become victims of fake herbal supplements that contain unchartered, banned and questionable ingredients.
- Although, the demand for organic supplements is increasing to increase their performance in sports, yet care should be taken to avoid any unexpected chemical being eaten in these herbs.Hence, several sportsmen also became victims of organic herbs.
- Besides taking ayurvedic herbal medicines, application of lukewarm water on the painful muscles also relieves pain associated with sports-originated muscle fatigue. However, if an internal injury has happened, you should apply ice or cold water on the injured muscle to prevent bleeding and ensure quick clotting, instead of applying lukewarm water.
- Since the efficacy of these herbal supplements is evaluated through scientific studies, the dietary supplementation of these should only be adopted after consultation with a qualified herbalist.
- Excess of everything is bad, hence using these herbs in excess can cause harm instead of benefit. Sellami et al (2018) reported in a scientific report published in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” that the higher doses of herbal supplements can cause kidney and liver damage.
- In addition, lower concentration of these herbs may not be beneficial as well. Hence, doses of these herbal supplements should also be taken according to the instructions written by the manufacturer.
- The herbs are not a 100% cure of any problem listed above. Hence, these can only be used as supplements. The advice of the physician and herbalists is very important before taking these herbs along with traditional medicines.
- Sellami et al (2018) reported that several herbs, such as Moringa, Spirulina, and Bala have not been extensively researched, but their benefits clearly overweigh their harms in limited scientific results. Hence, care should be taken before using supplements of these herbs.
Sportsmen need a source of energy prior to games and exercises, particularly early in the morning. During physical activities, their bodies undergo extensive metabolisms. To fulfil the nutritional needs of their bodies, they need to take nutritional supplements. There has been an increasing debate between the use of traditional medicinal and organic nutritional supplements.
Herbs can be used to improve cognitive abilities, stamina, and immune function. Herbal supplements improve the resistance against stress and alleviate depression by controlling various chemical reactions. The usefulness of these herbs is related to their constituent chemicals, which control reactions in the body.
Adaptogens and ergogenic herbs are important in this regard. Adaptogens stabilize the homeostasis of the body by regulating the production and function of several hormones. Ergogenic herbs improve the performance of athletes.
Although, herbal supplements are safer option than traditional synthetic nutritional supplements, yet these should only be taken with precaution upon the prescription of your qualified health practitioner / herbalist, as taking their lower or higher concentrations than recommended doses can be harmful.