There’s no doubt that when it comes to performing in any sporting environment we would want to put our best foot forward. Naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea, Lisa Guy shares the 8 best herbs to boost your overall immunity and athletic performance.
Here are some of the key herbs that I would recommend for boosting your athletic performance as well as your immunity. These are all great because they support not only your performance, but also your recovery, which is essential to anyone who wants to be able to back up a training session.
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Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) has been traditionally used for thousands of years in China to help prevent colds and flu and to increase general health and stamina. Studies have found that Siberian ginseng can increase endurance and physical performance, making it a beneficial herb for athletes. Siberian ginseng is considered an adaptogenic herb, as it improves the body’s ability to deal with stress, including intense exercise. Siberian ginseng has an antioxidant action to help combat free radical damage, and its active compounds called eleutherosides help stimulate the immune system, which can become depleted in athletes.
Drinking green tea daily can help support healthy immune function. It’s believed that the polyphenols found in green tea, which have potent antioxidant properties, have an immune-enhancing effect. Studies have shown that green tea can increase fat utilization during aerobic exercise, which can have a glycogen-sparing effect, resulting in a boost in endurance.
Maca is a Peruvian superfood that is popular with athletes as it helps improve endurance and performance. Maca contains high levels of B vitamins and magnesium, which are essential for producing energy in the body. Macca is also an ‘adaptogenic’ food which helps the body cope with the physical stress of intense exercise, along with helping to support healthy immune function.
Spirulina, a blue green algae, is jam-packed with important immune strengthening micronutrients, including iron, beta-carotene and essential fatty acids. Spirulina is beneficial for boosting energy levels, and improving immune function. Try blending 1 tsp of spirulina powder with a frozen banana, and some fresh pineapple or orange juice for an added boost in immune boosting vitamin C, or take around 5-6 capsules daily.
Echinacea is widely known for its ability to stimulate the immune system to prevent or treat colds and flu. Echinacea contains phenolic compounds, which have the ability to increase the activity and number of immune cells such as T-cells and macrophages. Echinacea can be enjoyed as a tea, or taken as a liquid extract or in tablet form.
Ginger is a lovely warming spice that has the ability to stimulate the protective functions of the immune system. Ginger can activate T-cells, which are an important part of the immune system. These white blood cells destroy cells infected by viruses. Ginger has also been found to help reduce muscle soreness after intense exercise, due to its potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Ginger can be drunk as a tea, added to veggie juices, stir-fries, salads, smoothies, or sauces.
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that is used by athletes to help their bodies cope with the physical demands of heavy training sessions. It has also been found to help improve athletic performance and reduce recovery time, according to a study published in Phytomedicine 2011. This beneficial herb can also help stimulate the immune system to help fight off infections.
Garlic contains sulfur compounds that have potent immune-boosting properties. Studies have shown that garlic reduces the frequency and severity of colds and flu. According to a study published in The International Journal of Sports Medicine, garlic can also lower blood viscosity (flow), which can result in an increase in oxygen and nutrients being delivered to muscles, having a positive effect on exercise performance. To get the most out of your garlic, crush it first and don’t overcook it. Cooking will destroy some of the vital antioxidant compounds in garlic, so try to eat garlic raw when you can eg. in dips, dressings and pesto.