Common adaptogens and athletic performance

Adaptogens are a class of herbs known for their ability to boost the body’s tolerance to stress, fatigue, and sickness.

For a more in depth look into what adaptogens are and how they work, check out one of my previous articles here.

The role adaptogens play in increasing athletic performance, however, is less well known. In this article, we’re going to examine the scientific evidence surrounding some common adaptogens and their ability to improve athletic performance.

Roseroot (Rhodiola rosea)

Roseroot increases time to exhaustion and VO2 max.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise. Generally, the better shape you’re in, the higher your VO2 max is going to be.

A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old male is about 42ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A good VO2 max for a 30-year-old female is about 32ml of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. To put these values in perspective, Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain’s VO2 max was reported at 88 mL of oxygen/kg bodyweight/minute. A highly trained athlete is that much more efficient at using oxygen than the average Joe.

The time to exhaustion test is quite simple. To perform the test, the participant must maintain a certain work rate. The time to exhaustion is the time between the beginning of the test and the moment the participant can no longer maintain the required work rate.

A study consisting of 12 healthy but untrained male and female participants tested roseroot’s effect on VO2 max and time to exhaustion. Participants took either one 100 milligram dose right before VO2 max testing or took a lower dose for 4 weeks. Both dosing regimes increased VO2 max and time to exhaustion.

A second study measuring VO2 max alone, wasn’t as promising. Fourteen males took roseroot for 4 weeks prior to testing. All the men were between the ages of 18 and 29 and were well trained. In this group, the roseroot had no effect on VO2 max.

One study has measured the effects of roseroot on power output.

Power is the amount of work that can be done in a given period of time. Work is a measure of energy transfer on an object. If, for example, a person moves a block along the ground, it means that person is doing work on that block. Power would be calculated by dividing the work done on the block by time.

The study measuring VO2 max and time to exhaustion in healthy untrained males and females also measured power output. No significant changes were noted.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

Eleuthero is Siberian ginseng. One study conducted in 1986 concluded that taking eleuthero can increase anaerobic running capacity. Anaerobic means in the absence of oxygen. It’s the type of running that would make you out of breath, like sprinting.

The study involved 6 trained men between the ages of 18-44. They each took 4 millilitres of a concentrated liquid eleuthero herbal extract for 8 days. Then, they performed a VO2 max test. The researchers also measured time to fatigue.

The men in the study who took eleuthero for 8 days before the test had a higher VO2 max and a longer time to fatigue.

While the study is well designed, the effect wasn’t robust, and it only involved 6 people. More researched is needed to make any definitive conclusions about eleuthero and athletic performance.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

Schisandra is a plant whose berry extracts have been shown to increase circulating levels of nitric oxide in 71 male and female athletes. Nitric oxide is a molecule naturally produced by the body that increases vasodilation – blood vessels widen to increase blood flow.

The men and women involved in the study took Schisandra prior to competition and the authors measured circulating nitric oxide in the athlete’s saliva. Based on this measurement, nitric oxide increased as a result of the supplement.

Maral (Rhaponticum carthamoides) root

Rhaponticum carthamoides is a plant source of ecdysteroids and is commonly referred to as Maral Root or Russian Leuzea. Ecdysteroids are a type of steroid hormone widely marketed to athletes as a dietary supplement. They’re advertised as being able to increase strength and muscle mass as well as reduce fatigue and ease recovery.

Rats fed 50mg/kg of ecdysone over the course of 28 days had a grip strength that was 18% stronger than the group that was not given any ecdysone. Grip strength or power output after rhaptonticum carthamoides supplementation has not been assessed in humans.

Adaptogens have a long scientific history of reducing fatigue and helping the body adapt to stress. Research into adaptogens increasing athletic performance is less mature. Despite the relative infancy of the field, the documented safety of common adaptogens like roseroot, eleuthero, Schisandra, and Rhaponticum carthomoides make them a worthy candidate for the supplement stack of anyone trying to bust through a plateau or reach a new personal best.

Sources and further reading

Roseroot

Eleuthero

Schisandra

Rhaponticum carthamoides

 

 

 

 

Taurine: Frequently Asked Questions

Taurine is an organic acid found in large amounts in the brain, retina, and blood. It is a “conditional amino acid”, meaning it can be manufactured by the body when insufficient amounts are ingested from the diet.

Taurine has many different functions throughout the body and several uses in modern medicine. For example, it acts as a stabilizer of cell membranes and helps out a few different anti-oxidant defense systems; it is used to treat congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, and liver disease; it is used in seizure disorders, autism, and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder; and supplementation has been shown to improve performance in athletes. Some are a direct result of the actions of taurine, others occur through taurine’s influence on other molecules.

With so many different effects and applications, it’s easy to get confused trying to sort out what taurine does, and what it doesn’t do.

With this article, I’m going to tackle some of the most frequently asked questions about taurine.

If you’re looking for some general information about taurine and taurine supplementation, check out this previous article of mine.

#1: Is taurine a stimulant?

A stimulant refers to a compound that increases the activity of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), that is pleasurable and invigorating, or stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.

On its own, taurine doesn’t seem to be a stimulant because it doesn’t fit these criteria.

While some studies have shown improvements in athletic performance and exercise capacity, this is likely occurring through taurine’s capacity as an antioxidant and membrane stabilizer, or through some function of taurine that hasn’t quite been identified yet.

Taurine is sometimes mistaken as a stimulant because a few studies have suggested taurine combined with caffeine improves mental performance. And because you’ll often find taurine listed as an ingredient in energy drinks.

#2: Is taurine a diuretic?

A diuretic is a compound that increases the production of urine.

It’s a little unclear as to whether taurine is a diuretic or not. I was able to find two studies saying it is, but one was done in hamsters and the other was super small.

The one study that was done in humans involved 8 patients with damage to their livers from liver disease. These patients had taurine added to their i.v. bag one day, had their urine volume measured, then had extra saline added to their i.v. bag the next day to serve as their own control.

A study with a sample size this small, which only included people with advanced liver disease, doesn’t allow you to draw too many conclusions. So, for now, the jury is still out on whether taurine is a diuretic.

#3: Is taurine a sleep aid?

In short, no.

Taurine is involved in the creation of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and it increases in the body with long periods of being awake. It also activates GABA(A) receptors in a region of the brain associated with sleep regulation.

These properties have led people to think that taurine is useful as a sleep aid.

However, the only study with good results suggesting taurine was useful for promoting sleep was done in fruit flies.

Studies done in rats showed minimal effects and the one study involving people didn’t show good results either.

#4: Can you take taurine before bed?

Taurine on its own is not a stimulant. So, yes, it can be taken before bed without any risk of disrupting your sleep.

Do be careful about other ingredients that might be appearing alongside taurine though. Often you’ll find taurine in energy drinks or pre-workout supplements, which contain caffeine and other stimulants that may make it difficult to fall asleep.

#5: Does taurine help with stress?

Taurine can be found in many different regions of the brain and can be taken in by neurons. In people, taurine levels found in the blood are related to depression.

One study examined the effect of taurine supplementation on chronically stressed rats.

The researchers supplemented rats with taurine before stress and measured changes in depression-like behavior, hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammatory factors, and neurotrophic factors.

The animals given taurine had decreased depression-like behaviors and displayed beneficial changes in many of the hormones and other factors measured. Based on the changes the researchers observed, they concluded that taurine may be involved in regulating the HPA axis (the master regulator of the stress response).

While these results have not been tested in humans, taurine does seem pretty promising in being able to help the brain cope with stress.

Conclusion

Taurine is found in many different parts of the body. Because it is so widespread, it plays many different roles in human physiology. Some science has discovered and characterized already, many remain active areas of research.

What do we know taurine does? Taurine is an antioxidant, it stabilizes cell membranes, it improves athletic performance and exercise capacity, it is beneficial for mental performance when combined with caffeine, it can safely be taken before bed, and it likely helps with stress management.

What doesn’t taurine do? Taurine is not a stimulant, it doesn’t seem to be a diuretic, and it is not a sleep aid.

Do you use taurine in your supplement stack? Have you had any personal experiences with it that don’t line up with what’s published about it in the science world? Let me know about it in the comments below. And please subscribe to the blog to get updates when new articles are posted!

Sources and further reading

Effect Of Taurine Supplementation On Exercise Capacity Of Patients With Heart Failure

The Effect Of Acute Taurine Ingestion On Endurance Performance And Metabolism In Well-trained Cyclists

A taurine and caffeine-containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well-being

Taurine-induced diuresis and natriuresis in cirrhotic patients with ascites.

Effect of taurine and caffeine on sleep-wake activity in Drosophila melanogaster.

Effect of taurine on ethanol-induced sleep time in mice genetically bred for differences in ethanol sensitivity.

Effect of caffeine and taurine on simulated laparoscopy performed following sleep deprivation.

Antidepressant effect of taurine in chronic unpredictable mild stress-induced depressive rats.

How stress is getting in the way of your weight loss goals

You go to the gym five days a week. You’re doing cardio. You’re weight training. You’re doing yoga. You take all the proper supplements. And… you haven’t dropped a pound.

Sound familiar?

If this sounds at all like you, then this article could put some things in perspective for you and take you beyond the plateau you currently find yourself stuck at.

The culprit that makes it impossible to budge the needle on the scale is stress.

Stress is often the hidden factor, lurking in the shadows, pulling the strings from beyond the veil that is preventing you from making any real progress when it comes to your weight loss goals.

In this article, we’ll go over how stress effects weight gain/loss. And we’ll cover some helpful ways to better manage stress that have worked for me in the past.

Stress and cortisol

When you perceive a situation as stressful, a tiny area at the bottom of your brain which acts as an alarm system (the hypothalamus) fires up. The hypothalamus tells the rest of your body that some serious shit is going down and we need all hands on deck to get the hell out of here.

The alarm signal gets to the rest of the body as the hypothalamus sends signals down to your adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands react to the signal by releasing a surge of hormones that will prime your brain and body to deal with the stressful situation.

The primary stress hormone released by the adrenal glands is cortisol.

Cortisol does two things: 1) it shuts down bodily functions that are nonessential to your immediate survival, and 2) it activates systems that are going to allow maximal physical and mental function for a short period of time.

The functions considered nonessential in the short term are your immune system, digestion, reproduction, and growth.

To be ready for maximal mental and physical exertion, cortisol increases the amount of sugar in the blood stream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.

Increased blood sugar ensures working muscles have the energy they need to function maximally (in the case you have to run away from a life or death situation); enhancing your brain’s use of glucose ensures you’re thinking clearly in case the stressful situation requires some savvy to get out of; and increasing the availability of substances that repairs tissues ensures you can recover quickly if injured.

Cortisol and weight loss

This system has been evolutionarily designed to function in the short term.

It is perfect in situations where you need to make a quick getaway. Say, getting away from a bear that is chasing you, for instance.

The stress response, and its associated cortisol release, is not meant to function in the long term.

Unfortunately, most of the things that activate the stress response nowadays are slow burning and act over a long period of time.

Things like financial stress or pressure at work don’t flair up and go away within twenty minutes. They come and persist for months or even years.

The problem is, they activate the stress response in exactly the same way as a bear attack would.

Basically, you’re living your life like you’re constantly being chased by a bear. And it’s wearing you out.

The physiological response to long term cortisol causes you to change your eating patterns, which causes you to gain weight.

Cortisol increases sugar in the blood stream. In response, beta cells in the pancreas start to produce insulin.

The sequential cortisol insulin spike creates a huge upswing in blood sugar, followed by a drop.

The drop causes you to crave high fat, sugary foods to compensate. This is exactly what Dr. Clifford Roberts of Kings College in the UK observed when he measured the food consumed and dietary restraint of women that gained weight during a stressful time.

38 healthy women in a postgraduate course participated in the study. At the beginning of the semester and 15 weeks later (right before the final exam for the course) the composition of the food they consumed, their body mass index (BMI), their levels of dietary restraint, and their cortisol levels were measured.

Increased cortisol with reduced dietary restraint and increased caloric intake were the main factors explaining increases in BMI.

The researchers also found that increased consumption of carbohydrates and saturated fat contributed to the changes in dietary restraint that resulted in weight gain.

What are some good ways to manage stress?

  • Identify the source of the stress and remove it if possible

Of course, this isn’t always possible. Some regular stressors of daily life, such as work, family, and money, are here and they’re not going anywhere.

Some can be remedied. Fights with siblings or parents, squabbles with friends, a rough patch in your relationship… these can all be identified and dealt with.

  • Sleep!

Ever been so stressed out and overwhelmed by everything in your life, had one good night of sleep, and then found yourself bewildered by how much the stuff bothering you yesterday didn’t bother you at all today?

Sleeping well is your number one ally when it comes to stress management. Create the best conditions possible for good sleep and set aside enough hours in the day to feel rested.

  • Focus on good nutrition

As we’ve learned in this article, stress itself is not going to make you gain weight. It is our behavioral response to stress that makes us gain weight.

Focusing on maintaining good nutrition during stressful periods in life will help manage body weight during these times and also help you better manage the stress itself.

  • Adaptogens

Adaptogens can help your body adjust and prevent some of the damaging effects of stress on your body. Take them daily.

Stress is unavoidable. When it comes to stress and weight loss, there is really only one solution: manage it. Because you can’t get rid of it altogether.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other stress relieving techniques that have really worked for you!

Sources

Increases in weight during chronic stress are partially associated with a switch in food choice towards increased carbohydrate and saturated fat intake

 

The benefits of probiotics for stress, depression, anxiety, and cognition

On the surface, the digestive system seems pretty simple: one opening where things go in, a long tube winding its way through your body, and another opening where things come out.

Talk to a doctor or a scientist twenty years ago and this is basically how they would have described it to you.

Then, a bunch of scientists got together and decided to make things a lot more complicated (as they usually tend to do). They began asking what all those tiny microorganisms in the digestive tract are doing.

A whole new world of discovery emerged.

They realized what goes on in the gut is more complex and important than anyone could have imagined.

The bacteria, bacteriophages, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and archaea living in the digestive tract are collectively referred to as the “gut microbiome”.

A typical person has about 300 to 500 different species of bacteria living in their digestive tract. Some are harmful. Some are helpful. Some are even necessary for basic health.

The particular makeup of bacteria living in your intestines and whether it is positively influencing your health or negatively influencing your health is referred to as your “gut health”.

Researchers have noticed that gut health is linked to basically every part of the body. It influences the immune system, your mood, your mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and even cancer.

The digestive system is a pretty direct link to the outside world. That means what we do and what we eat can have a substantial impact on the bacteria that reside in the digestive system and, in turn, all the facets of health that the gut microbiome impacts.

Things like high stress, not enough sleep, eating processed and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics all alter the gut microbiome in a negative way.

Healthy foods and probiotic supplements, on the other hand, can alter the gut microbiome in a positive way.

This article is going to focus on the positive impact probiotics have on brain function. Specifically, we’re going to touch on research linking probiotic supplementation to an improved stress response, less depression and anxiety, and improved cognition.

There are a ton of links to the original studies at the bottom of the page. Please check them out!

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts. The good and helpful kind that help keep your gut healthy.

Exactly how probiotics work isn’t completely understood. However, it is thought to have something to do with replacing good bacteria that have been lost and/or by balancing the amounts of good bacteria and bad bacteria in the gut.

Most probiotics come from two groups of bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

Lactobacillus is a type of “good” bacteria normally found in our digestive, urinary, and genital systems. It is also found in some fermented foods like yogurt and in many probiotic supplements.

Bifidobacterium are also “good” bacteria commonly found in the intestines. They belong to a group of bacteria called lactic acid bacteria, which are found in fermented foods like yogurt and cheese. This type of bacteria is also commonly found in probiotic supplements.

The positive effects of probiotics on the stress response

Most of the people you talk to are stressed out. Work, family, and financial woes can bring anyone to the brink of insanity.

If you feel this way, you’re not alone: 77% of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress. 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.

While probiotics can’t remove stressors from your life, they may be able to help regulate your response to them.

It turns out the gut microbiome plays a role in this physical and psychological response to stress. Mainly by regulating the HPA axis.

Animal experiments suggest bacteria in the gut have a positive influence on the stress response. Mice raised in conditions where they lack bacteria in the digestive tract have an exaggerated stress response.

This exaggerated response can be reversed when the animals are given probiotics.

Another study in animals showed that probiotics normalize stress hormones.

In humans, probiotics dampen the stress response and alter the activity of brain regions responsible for controlling the processing of emotion and sensation.

The positive effects of probiotics in depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety affect over 100 million people all over the world.

As a result of an increased understanding of the link between the gut microbiome and mood, neuroscientists have become increasingly interested in using compounds, like probiotics, to treat depression and anxiety.

Animal models tell us that probiotic treatment moderate anxiety and antidepressant-related behavior. We know from studies in people that probiotic consumption is linked to better scores on depression and anxiety scales, improved mood status, and improved clinical signs of depression.

Probiotics may be working to produce these beneficial effects by elevating blood tryptophan concentrations, modulating serotonin levels in the frontal cortex, modulating dopamine metabolites in the cortex, and altering the expression of certain receptors for neurotransmitters.

The positive effects of probiotics on cognition

Cognition is a catch-all term used to describe many intellectual functions and processes our brains perform. These include things like attention, the formation of knowledge, memory and working memory, judgement and evaluation, reasoning and computation, problem solving, decision making, comprehension, and the production of language.

Cognitive function decreases with age and is drastically diminished in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

In healthy people, probiotics improve scores on cognitive fatigue tests and modulates brain activity during emotional attention tests.

Probiotic supplementation also improves cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Conclusion

Good gut health is essential for good overall health.

Probiotic supplementation is a good way to make sure your gut microbiome is functioning optimally. There are a lot of good options out there. If you’d like help picking a good one, please contact me. I’d love to help you out.

Sources and further reading

Postnatal microbial colonization programs the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system for stress response in mice

Probiotic treatment of rat pups normalises corticosterone release and ameliorates colonic dysfunction induced by maternal separation.

Bifidobacterium longum 1714 as a translational psychobiotic: modulation of stress, electrophysiology and neurocognition in healthy volunteers.

Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity.

The effects of probiotics on mental health and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in petrochemical workers.

Impact of consuming a milk drink containing a probiotic on mood and cognition.

Clinical and metabolic response to probiotic administration in patients with major depressive disorder: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Fermented milk of Lactobacillus helveticus IDCC3801 improves cognitive functioning during cognitive fatigue tests in healthy older adults.

Effect of Probiotic Supplementation on Cognitive Function and Metabolic Status in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized, Double-Blind and Controlled Trial.

The top 7 fitness trends for 2019 according to health and fitness professionals

2018 is over. It came and went in a flash.

Just as you were getting comfortable with your workout routine and your diet, the end of the year, and the beginning of a new one, might have you thinking about what you are going to do next.

Your body is continually evolving. Exercise science is continually evolving. It’s only natural that your exercise routine should evolve too.

Stay ahead of the pack and on top of your game by taking advantage of the biggest trends in the fitness world for 2019.

These are not fads.

Fads by their very nature are fleeting. In the fitness industry these are things like the Bowflex, doing Tae Bo, or the vibrating belt. They come, people get very excited about them, and then they are gone just as fast.

Trends are longer lasting; they represent a general development in a situation or a change in the way people are behaving.

For the past 13 years, American College of Sport’s Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal have conducted a survey of thousands of health and fitness professionals.

This year, they received responses from 2,038 people representing countries all over the world and working in many different industries. The top occupations participating in the survey were personal trainers (10%), clinical exercise physiologists (10%), health and fitness directors (10%) and professors (9%).

Here is a list of what they expect to see in 2019.

1. Wearable tech

Wearable tech includes fitness trackers, smart watches, heart rate monitors, and GPS tracking devices.

These little devices were super popular when they first came out in 2016 and interest in their use continued into 2017. 2018 saw them slip into the third spot.

For 2019, wearable tech has gone back up to the number 1 spot.

If you haven’t jumped on board with this trend yet, here are a few good guides to help you find a device that will work best for you:

“25 expert tips to get more from your fitness tech this New Year”

“Best fitness tracker guide 2019: Fitbit, Garmin, Xiaomi and more”

“The Best Fitness Trackers for 2019”

2. Group training

No one likes to do it alone. And it seems people like to do it in groups of 5 or more.

According to this and past surveys, group training has always been somewhat of a thing. It wasn’t until 2017, however, that it cracked the top 20.

People tend to like working out in groups because it’s motivating (a good, energetic instructor can make an hour fly by), there’s a well-structured plan, it makes you accountable and you tend to try harder, it’s fun, and you have the support of your fellow participants.

Here are some guides to classes you might want to try in 2019:

“6 Group Workout Classes That Beat Hitting the Gym Alone”

“The beginner’s guide to choosing the best group fitness workout”

3. High intensity interval training

High intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are popular, and it looks like they are here to stay. HIIT cracked the top 20 of this survey in 2014 and has been 1 of the top 5 ever since.

The popularity of HIIT undoubtedly continues as exercise science tells us more and more about the benefits of this type of training. These include: burning a lot of calories in a short amount of time, boosting your metabolic rate for hours beyond the actual workout, helping you lose fat, gaining muscle, etc.

Whatever the workout is packaged as on the surface, HIIT always involves working at 90% or more of your maximum heart rate for short periods of time, followed by intermittent rest periods.

Here are some links to some good HIIT workouts you can do on your own:

“10 HIIT Workouts to Get You Shredded for Summer”

“5 Best 20 Minute HIIT Cardio Workouts For Rapid Fat Loss”

4. Fitness programs for older adults

The baby boomers continue to get older. And they tend to have more money than us younger folk.

That means many health clubs are going to start gearing some of their classes towards this portion of the population.

5. Bodyweight training

Bodyweight training has gained popularity in the last few years. It first made its appearance on this survey in 2013 and it was within the top 5 in 2017 and 2018.

It has cracked the top 5 again this year.

People tend to enjoy bodyweight exercise because of its convenience (you can do the workouts anywhere you are with no equipment required) and because of its effectiveness (you can get all the benefits of a full gym with some creative exercises).

Here are some great bodyweight workouts to try this year:

“The 30 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Men”

“Bodyweight Workouts for Women”

6. Hiring certified fitness professionals

People want to know they can trust the person they’ve charged with looking after their health. In 2019, you can expect more thorough background checks into accreditation and qualifications. This is a good thing for you.

7. Yoga

Yoga really got popular around the 2010’s. And it appears to be on the rise again in 2019, just like it has been since 2017.

Yoga is great because of the relaxation techniques you learn in a class; the benefits it has on stress, depression, and anxiety; and the strength and flexibility increases you’ll experience with regular practice.

There are many types of yoga you can do. Here are some articles to help you figure out where you should start.

“Beginner’s Guide to Yoga”

“The Definitive Guide to Yoga”

Conclusion

Here’s to another year of nutrition, fitness, and well-being. Stay ahead of the curve by capitalizing on these fitness trends and have fun becoming the best version of yourself possible.

Have a great 2019!

Sources

“Worldwide survey of fitness trends for 2019” – American College of Sports Medicine