Cordyceps and Reishi for Athletic Performance and Endurance

In sports nutrition, much attention is given to supplements that aid in improving athletic performance, muscle growth, energy supply, or recovery phases of exercise. The products that can provide such bioactive structures are called ergogenic products. In recent years, medicinal mushrooms, which are used for different diseases such as infections, inflammations, or chronic diseases, have drawn attention to some positive effects on sports performance.

Key takeaways:

Let's cover the athletic performance effects of two specific medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps and reishi.

Factors affecting athletic performance

First of all, we can start with understanding what our bodies need to improve athletic performance and endurance. If you want to improve physical fitness and athletic performance, you need to increase both your cardiovascular and muscular capacity.

Cardiovascular capacity

This is also known as cardiorespiratory fitness and is essential for exercise performance. It determines the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to the working muscles during physical activity. A higher cardiovascular capacity offers several benefits, including enhanced oxygen delivery to the muscles, improved energy efficiency, increased endurance, and faster recovery.

Key markers of cardiovascular capacity include:

  • Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max)
  • Heart rate response
  • Recovery heart rate
  • Time to exhaustion

Monitoring and improving these markers help assess an individual's aerobic fitness level, guide training strategies, and track progress over time.

Muscular capacity

Muscular capacity encompasses strength and endurance, and is vital for athletic performance. It enables athletes to generate power, exhibit explosiveness, and sustain effort during physical activities.

Muscular capacity contributes to functional movement, endurance, injury prevention, strength, and body composition. Through strength training and sport-specific exercises, athletes can enhance their muscular capacity, improving performance and reducing the risk of injuries.

Cordyceps overview

Cordyceps is a type of mushroom that is used for medicinal purposes. These mushrooms are mainly found in China and have been used as herbal agents in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1,500 years.

There are several scientific studies have shown the valuable functions of medicinal mushrooms, including:

  • Anti-cancer
  • Immune-modulating
  • Anti-aging
  • Anti-viral
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-fatigue

However, as mentioned above, for evaluating the athletic performance effects of cordyceps, we need to focus on cardiovascular markers and muscle improvements.

Research on cordyceps and athletic performance

Short-term consumption of a cordyceps-containing supplement improved tolerance to high-intensity exercise by increasing VO2 max. Individuals with higher VO2 max values can sustain high-intensity exercise for longer periods, as they can deliver more oxygen to their muscles and efficiently produce energy.

In another study, eight weeks of herbal-based supplementation containing cordyceps with high-intensity training showed positive changes in body composition by reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass. These positive changes in body composition can increase endurance and athletic performance.

Even in older individuals, daily cordyceps supplementation for 12 weeks showed a significant increase in the lactate threshold and the ventilatory threshold compared to baseline values.

  • Lactate threshold. An increase in the lactate threshold indicates an improvement in the body's ability to sustain exercise at higher intensities before reaching a point of significant lactate accumulation and fatigue. It suggests an enhanced aerobic capacity and better endurance performance.
  • Ventilatory threshold. On the other hand, the ventilatory threshold is a point at which the body's ability to remove CO2 and buffer hydrogen ions becomes challenged, resulting in an increase in breathing rate and depth. An increase in the ventilatory threshold indicates an improved ability to tolerate higher exercise intensities before experiencing significant respiratory limitations.

All of these science-based results indicate that cordyceps can be effective in the improvement of athletic performance and endurance.

Reishi overview

When we look at the current literature, it can be easily seen that reishi is a less studied mushroom type compared to cordyceps, especially in the sports nutrition field. Still, there are some human and animal studies showing reishi consumption effects on exercise performance.

Research on reishi and athletic performance

Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) are well-known for their ability to support the immune system and reduce inflammation. One of the main responsible compounds for these immune effects is triterpenoids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Fibromyalgia. After the 6-week reishi supplementation period, women with fibromyalgia showed improved aerobic endurance, lower body flexibility, and velocity.
  • Mice. In an animal study, the supplement product containing reishi mushroom showed significantly increased endurance and strength in mice. Furthermore, researchers also indicate improvements in lactate production and clearance rate.

Regulation of lactate production and clearance is an important marker to improve endurance and delay fatigue. Also, one of the main energy storage pathways for exercise — glycogen content of the liver and muscles — was also significantly increased after the supplement.

On the other hand, in another study, healthy young people consumed reishi containing herbal supplements for about one month, but there wasn’t any significant improvement in physical performance and endurance markers. To better understand the effects of these herbal agents, further detailed studies will be enlightening.

Final word

The use of medicinal mushrooms in sports nutrition has shown promising effects on athletic performance. They may be a great addition to the existing list of supplements for performance and muscle building. Cordyceps and reishi are particularly promising as natural ergogenics with potential benefits for enhancing athletic performance, improving endurance, and supporting overall well-being.

Further studies are still necessary to determine optimal dosages, duration of supplementation, and potential mechanisms of action for these mushrooms in the context of sports nutrition. Therefore, ensure you check in with your doctor and health provider before you start using a medicinal mushroom.

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