Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) uses ginseng as an adaptogen—a substance that helps the body adapt to stressful situations and promotes general well-being. Ginseng is popularly believed to boost one’s energy levels, which makes it attractive to athletes hoping to improve their performances. In addition, it has been used as a tonic indicated for its beneficial effects on the central nervous system, protection from stress, anti-fatigue action, enhancement of sexual function, and acceleration of metabolism. An adaptogen is defined as a therapeutic and restorative tonic generally considered to produce a “balancing” effect on the body. The properties generally attributed to adaptogens are a non-specific increase in resistance to a wide range of stressors, including physical, chemical, and biological factors, as well as a “normalizing” action irrespective of the direction of the pathological changes. In general, an adaptogen can be thought of as a substance that helps the body deal with stress.
Adaptogenic plants and sports activities
The effects of adaptive plants on sports performances have been studied for a few decades, athletes are using ginseng to increase the resistance to fatigue by alternative means to conventional anabolic stimulants which have serious side effects. The difference between adaptogens and stimulants (drugs) is that adaptogens stimulate the body’s metabolic systems and keep them active for a long time, while chemical stimulants shorten their effect and require further administration to maintain high performance. Some suggest ginseng may enhance physical performance via improved concentration, alertness, and arousal. It has generally been found that “Korean Red Ginseng” modulates stress response and reduces performance anxiety. It is believed that it acts in the muscles of athletes because of its ability to favor the release of creatine. Ginseng supplementation at a dose of 200 mg per day in male elite athletes significantly improved the oxygen uptake, endurance capacity, vital capacity, forced expiratory volumes, recovery heart rate, pectoral and quadriceps strength and reduced the lactate production.
Safety and dosage
A daily intake of 100-300mg for 3-6 weeks is recommended to produce adaptogenic and energetic benefits. Generally, plants in the ginseng family are considered to be quite safe. There are no known drug interactions, contraindications, common allergic reactions, or toxicity to Siberian ginseng, Panax ginseng, or American ginseng. A word of caution is recommended, however, for individuals with hypertension, as the stimulatory nature of some ginseng preparations have been reported to increase blood pressure. Additionally, those individuals prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) should use ginseng with caution due to the reported effects of ginseng to reduce blood sugar levels. Consuming caffeine with ginseng increases the risk of over-stimulation and gastrointestinal upset.
|Take away tip
Ginseng can be consumed raw or lightly steamed. It can also easily be added to your diet via its extract, capsule or powder form. Whether you want to improve a certain condition or simply give your health a boost, ginseng is definitely worth a try.
Q&A: why athletes use ginseng as an ergogenic aid?
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