Before we dive into how herbs can help support your athleticism, it is important to give you an overview of how I look at athleticism…
Notice that mental/emotional outlook forms the base. Previously I would have said training was the base of this pyramid. However, most people don’t engage in any training at all more because of mental and emotional blocks than anything else. Besides the common saying across all sports is “The game is 90% mental” or something along those lines.
But then we have our physical training. Whether this is running, lifting weights, doing bodyweight exercises, playing tennis, cycling, martial arts, whatever you do, it’s all physical movement training that helps the body adapt to get better. (If you’re interested in getting stronger, moving better and upping your mental game I recommend you check out my other website LegendaryStrength.com. You can see a good idea of my expertise in the feats of strength I’ve performed here on my best videos.)
Sleep and recovery are next. Any gains don’t necessarily come in your training but in the recovery from that practice or training. Whether it’s a hard muscle-tearing down workout, or a skill training session, this is true across the muscular, cardiovascular and nervous systems. There are important differences but they all require sleep to restore. Sleep is the most crucial element, though there are other ways to up recovery too.
Next up we have diet. Of course, this is important because your diet is going to come into play on every single one of these. In addition to moving towards a natural diet and away from processed foods, you’ll want to figure out what sort of food works best for you. Although everyone thinks in terms of carbs for energy, personally I do well with a higher fat diet than most. You can read more about fat for fuel here.
Lastly, we get to supplements, and that would include the herbs we’re going to talk about (even though some are more food-like). You also need an adequate or even optimal supply of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals for optimal performance. Good places to start are in areas that many people are chronically deficient in including; magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, etc., if your diet isn’t supplying them. These can have very real, tangible effects. For an elite level athlete, a 1% increase can make the difference between winning and losing. It can be the difference between success or failure.
In fact, the reason I got into herbs in the first place was to support my workouts. Not being naturally strong or athletic, I sought out different ways to get an edge. Cordyceps was the first herb I took regularly and noted how it helped my endurance workouts. Since that time, I’ve experimented with lots of herbs for lots of different things.
Lastly, I include the spiritual aspect that can be tapped into. But that’s a whole other topic for another time.
It is crucial to note that while I set these up as a pyramid to show the importance, every level affects every other level. In fact, much of what we’ll look at with the herbs is in how they affect training, energy, sleep, recovery and more. That being said, if you think taking some herbs will magically transform your training, diet, and sleep, you may have set your expectations too high.
So, with that, let us dive into some of the areas that herbs can help. I’ve separated this into six different categories. Let’s look at each one of these in turn.
Table of Contents
You need to have enough energy to workout in the first place, and of course, you need the energy to keep going in your training too. For many, this is the most obvious place to start.
The most notable of the Qi tonics is Ant Extract. This is one herb that people tend to feel more so than others. It tends to give usable energy basically right away.
Pine pollen is going to be a good fit across many channels because of all the micro-nutrients, and also the hormonal action. Many people report greater energy when on pine pollen.
In general, all the herbs just mentioned for energy also tend to help with endurance.
If we look at adaptogens like rhodiola or eleuthero we see that they directly help with fatigue. In fact, that was one of the main areas that research around adaptogens was done in the first place.
We can also look at some other ways in which herbs can help increase endurance, through their interactions on the energy systems.
Part of having endurance and energy are having the mitochondria in your cells working well to produce ATP. Shilajit, the “conqueror of mountains,” helps do precisely that.
While training is essential for increasing performance, if you can’t recover from what you do, you won’t get the benefit. In fact, recovery is probably the more important piece of the puzzle when looking at how herbs can help you.
All of the adaptogens already mentioned tend to help with recovery too! They help your body to better adapt. Therefore, if you’re doing any sort of training they can help you adapt to it, and that means your recovery will improve.
To balance out the Yang Jing, we also want to take a look at Yin Jing herbs. You’re not going to get the same lift or energy out of these, but they work much more in the background providing stronger effects over time. Highlighted from Chinese medicine for yin jing effects are He Shou Wu and Rehmannia.
Another place we can look at is herbs that support reducing stress and helping with sleep, the nervines. Remember earlier how I talked about the importance of sleep. Even if you take herbs that give you great energy and endurance to tear it up in the gym or field, if your sleep is crap, you’re not going to get great results…at least not for long.
Albizia and ziziphus are helpful here in different ways. A personal favorite of mine is Blue Vervain, which I sometimes take right after I finish a workout to help switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode.
Better recovery is also largely about the hormones, which we turn to next…
If your hormones are working well you’ll recover better, have better energy, and just plain perform better in your training or sport. With this one, we see it has effects across all other areas.
For cortisol, the stress hormone, once again the adaptogens and nervines already mentioned will help.
Strength and athleticism is done through your tissues. Lots of people pay attention to the muscles because that’s what they can see. But other tissues are sometimes even more important. Especially when it comes to injuries. Here you’ll want to look to the tendons and ligaments.
Although Gotu Kola is often taken for its meditative and cognitive benefits, it’s other significant benefit is in aiding collagen synthesis. Collagen is what tendons, ligaments and many other tissues of your body are made of. It’s even much of what your muscles are made of.
Speaking of tissues, sometimes you want to directly apply your herbs to an area (say of a strain) rather than just taking it orally. In this case, liniments and rubs can be very useful. We’re looking at having something along these lines available soon.
Earlier, I mentioned the importance of the mental game. Well, one part of that is also supporting that game through herbs too.
It is also important to note that adaptogens such as rhodiola and schisandra not only help with physical fatigue but mental fatigue as well. This is especially useful for very strenuous but technical activities like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
I know I’ve talked about lots of herbs here. And supporting your performance is not about taking ALL of them.
Instead, look at some areas that you want specific help in and go with one or two recommendations from there.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention…
This formula was designed to give usable energy before workouts. And unlike any other pre-workout formula on the market, it is only made with herbs, no fillers, no flavoring agents, no crap.
It is made with Cistanche, Ant Extract, Maral Root, Rhodiola, Cordyceps and Shilajit, many of the herbs across these categories, for an overall athletic package.
It is a blend of qi tonics and both yang and yin jing herbs, that will help give increased energy, endurance, hormone support, focus, and recovery. (It is not specific for the better tissue angle, so if you want those add in some other herbs.)
Hercules is made specifically to take before workouts to give you that added boost so that you can get greater results.
Personally, I like to combine a teaspoon of it along with a tablespoon of beet juice powder. This further amplifies the effects, while also making it taste much better!
Happy training friends!