Exercise and Herbs

While the active season of summer may be coming to a close, fall entices many sports enthusiasts to run, bike, hike, and train when cooler weather presides. Of course, a successful workout requires adequate fuel and self-care to reduce the risk of injury and make for an enjoyable experience. So we look to herbs to help us postpone the onset of fatigue and aid in recovery.

Cayenne {Capsicum annuum}

Capsaicin, one of the cayenne’s active components, aids muscle pain and soreness by providing topical heat to those areas. Taken internally, the pepper informs the brain to circulate endorphins throughout the body. These endorphins make the athlete feel good, which helps with stamina during a long and intense workout. And because cayenne causes your body temperature to rise, it boosts metabolism {we burn more calories when the body is forced to go through a heating and cooling process}.

Ashwagandha {Withania somnifera}

A study published in 2015 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that the root has significant benefits for muscle strength, mass, and recovery in resistance training. Male subjects between the ages of 18 and 57, with little experience in resistance training, were split into a placebo group and an ashwagandha-extract group. The men spent eight weeks completing exercises that included leg extensions and bench presses. They were measured before and after eight weeks. At the end of the trial, those in the Ashwagandha group showed a siginificantly greater increase in muscle strength on the leg extension and bench press exercises and a significant increase in muscle size in the arms and chest. Exercise-induced muscle damage and body fat percentage were both reduced. In addition, participants saw a greater increase in testosterone levels.

Peppermint {Mentha x piperita}

Peppermint is a wonderful stimulating herb that boosts performance. Just a drop of peppermint essential oil on the tongue can give a blast of refreshing energy. Try it before and during a workout to increase endurance. Its antispasmodic properties help reduce muscle spasms and cramping, making it beneficial during a workout or while recuperating. This herb also contains potassium, magnesium, and calcium, important electrolytes that we can lose through sweat. An individual doing a long-duration run such as a marathon would benefit from drinking a peppermint infusion to replenish the needed potassium and electrolytes.

Chamomile {Matricaria recutita}

We may associate this herb with bedtime, but it actually works wonders on muscles, thanks to its ability to reduce inflammation of the affected areas. As an antispasmodic, it also eases muscle tension, which is particularly helpful during cramping. A cup of strong chamomile tea will work almost immediately. For topical relief before or after a workout, add chamomile essential oil to a base oil and use for a massage.

Lavender {Lavandula angustifolia}

This fragrant herb offers soothing relief for joint pain and muscle soreness, offering both anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic benefits. Combine it with almond oil for use in massage, or add it to a bath to relieve aches and pains while enjoying much-needed aromatherapy. It’s perfect for someone who’s just completed a long-duration workout or a marathon. {Use lavender essential oil or loose fried lavender in a muslin bag and add to the tub}.

Mustard {Brassica alba}

As a rubefacient, mustard {applied as a paste} brings heat to a sore or injured area by dilating the capillaries and increasing blood circulation {it will turn the skin red}. Some people also swear by “mustard baths,” an age-old bath blend that includes mustard powder, Epsom salts, and essential oils such as eucalyptus to warm fatigued muscles and lessen pain throughout the body.

Nettle {Urtica dioica}

This vitamin-packed herb strengthens the body’s overall health, stimulates metabolism, and boosts energy and stamina. It’s also beneficial for recovery after a hard workout. Nettle is rich in magnesium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, potassium, and many other minerals and vitamins. Calcium regulates muscle contraction and is necessary for the repair and maintenance of bone tissue. {Deficiency in calcium can result in stress fractures because of low bone mineral density.} Nettle reduces musculoskeletal pain as well as inflammation and muscle spasms.

Oats [Avena sativa}

Oats are a great source of energy, and their tops are rich in magnesium, an important mineral for muscle and nerve function. Oat’s anti-inflammatory action reduces fatigue and helps with post-exercise recovery.

Athletic Energy Balls

1/4 ounce spirulina

1-ounce Siberian ginseng powder

1-ounce ground ashwagandha

1-ounce astragalus

1 cup sesame butter

1/2 cup honey

1/2 ounce ground pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup crushed almonds

2 Tbls cocoa powder

1 Tbls carob powder

Combine herbs and spirulina, mixing well. In a separate bowl combine sesame butter and honey to form a paste. Add powdered herb mix into the paste. Next add pumpkin seeds, almonds, cocoa and carob powders. Roll into balls roughly the size of a walnut. Place in the refrigerator to harden.

Fo-ti {Polygonum multiflorum}

An energizing herb used in Chinese tonics, fo-ti improves endurance and reduces stress in the body by boosting circulation and supporting the heart. It contains lectins, protein-sugar complexes that help block the formation of plaque in the blood vessels that would restrict the flexibility of their walls. Fo-ti works best when taken regularly.

Astragalus {Astragalus membranaceus}

Another amazing tonic herb, astragalus strengthens the whole body, stimulates metabolism, and improves energy and endurance. This herb’s ability to increase the uptake of oxygen aids in recovery. A 2014 study published in Molecules showed that astragalus supplements increase exercise endurance and muscle glycogen {which muscles then convert into glucose} in mice. It also reduces exercise-induced fatigue.

Licorice {Glycyrrhiza glabra}

This anti-inflammatory aids the respiratory system, which is useful for the increased breathing associated with being active. It’s also handy {and tasty} when dealing with fatigue and exhaustion during high-intensity exercise or recovery.

Dandelion {Taraxacum officinale}

Dandelion is a restorative herb that helps during recovery. The leaves contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. A shortage of iron in the body can cause a deficiency of hemoglobin, which makes it difficult for the body to move oxygen into the muscles. Adding raw dandelion leaves to a salad is a great way to increase iron intake. Dandelion is also rich in potassium, which replenishes the body after long-duration activity. It relieves inflammation and the buildup of fluid in the joints and increases the absorption of nutrients.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}

As a stimulant, rosemary supports the circulatory system and boosts energy. Thanks to its analgesic and antioxidant properties, it’s great at targeting inflammation. These antioxidant properties also reduce oxidative stress and decrease joint pain. A nice cup of rosemary tea is a great way to relax and reap the benefits during recovery. Steep one tablespoon of rosemary leaves in two cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

Turmeric {Curcuma longa}

Turmeric is an immune-boosting herb that has highly effective anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its active compound curcumin. This powerful herb encourages flexibility and also aids the ligaments and tendons. Turmeric promotes the health of the musculoskeletal system. As a recovery herb, it reduces the pain, fatigue, and inflammation caused by the stress of an intense workout. For a simple recovery drink, mix turmeric root powder with a cup of warm almond milk {or milk of choice}. Stir 1/2-1 teaspoon of the turmeric powder into the warm milk. If you’d like something sweeter, add honey. Turmeric capsules are also a great option.

Athletic Energy Capsules

1 part ground licorice

1 part ground fo-ti

1/2 part ground oats

1/4 part cayenne powder

“OO” gelatin or vegetable capsules

Blend all of the powdered herbs together in a bowl and scoop into the capsules.

 

 

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