Female Athlete Sitting In Grass On Recovery Day Drinking Adaptogen Tea For Recovery Benefits

Adaptogens for Athletes: Benefits, Types & How to Supplement

BY Elizabeth Inpyn

Tap into the power of these natural substances to enhance your endurance, boost recovery, and maintain mental resilience.

As an athlete, you’re always on the lookout for ways to optimize performance and improve your overall well-being. To keep up with the constant demands of training, looking into supplemental foods, herbs, and vitamins/minerals makes sense. 

While regular sleep and sound nutrition are critical roles to recovery, integrating adaptogens into your routine can offer a significant advantage. Adaptogens are a unique class of herbs and botanical compounds that have been used for centuries in traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). 

While this article focuses primarily on the sports benefits of adaptogens, it’s important to note that adaptogens have been studied and found helpful for a number of other lifestyle ailments, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic inflammation.

Let’s explore how adaptogens can benefit your physical and mental resilience as an athlete, as well as how to add them to your routine for a noticeable impact on performance and training.

Understanding Adaptogens

Adaptogens are natural substances that help your body adapt to physical, emotional, and environmental stressors. They work by regulating the body’s stress response system, primarily the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which plays a crucial role in managing stress and maintaining homeostasis. 

Unlike stimulants, adaptogens don’t push your body into overdrive or exhaust its energy reserves. Instead, they modulate stress responses, providing a balanced and sustained effect. You can take adaptogens in a variety of ways, from capsules, to teas, or as a powder added to soups, smoothies, and other foods. 

It’s important to note that not all herbs work as adaptogens. Cilantro is a delicious and flavorful herb, but it’s not considered an adaptogen. Likewise, not all adaptogens are herbs. Mushrooms such as cordyceps, reishi, and Lion’s Mane are also adaptogens that have demonstrated the potential to enhance sports performance and aid in recovery. Their ability to improve endurance, reduce inflammation, and enhance cognitive function make them attractive options for athletes looking for natural ways to optimize performance. 

The 5 Key Benefits of Adaptogens For Sport

1. Improved Endurance Performance

Adaptogens have shown promising effects on energy production and oxygen utilization, both of which are essential for endurance athletes. Rhodiola rosea, for instance, has been found to enhance mitochondrial function and increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of cells. This leads to improved endurance and reduced fatigue during prolonged exercise. It’s also been shown to increase red blood cell count and improve the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This helps delay the onset of fatigue. 

The optimal dosage of Rhodiola rosea for endurance performance is not well-established, as it can vary depending on an individual’s weight, tolerance, and other factors. However, the typical recommended dosage ranges from 200 to 600 milligrams per day. It is recommended to start with the lower end of the dosage range and gradually increase if needed.

2. Enhanced Stress Resilience

Endurance training places significant stress on the body, and adaptogens can help you better adapt to this stress. Ashwagandha, an adaptogen widely used in Ayurveda, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. By supporting the body’s stress response system, adaptogens help you maintain a balanced mental state, leading to improved performance and recovery. 

The amount of Ashwagandha needed to effectively lower cortisol levels may vary, but studies show that a daily dosage of 300-500 mg taken twice a day could be beneficial in reducing cortisol levels. Ashwagandha should not be taken if you are pregnant due to the lack of research on pregnant women. Also, people who are allergic to other members of the nightshade plant family, Solanaceae, should avoid it. Lastly, there is no NSF certification for any Ashwagandha supplements at this point, so it may not be suitable for professional athletes undergoing drug tests.

Author’s Note: A brief reminder on cortisol: Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands and is critical for energy regulation, metabolism, and immune function during times of stress. But these benefits come with a price. Cortisol is considered a catabolic hormone, meaning it stimulates the breakdown of muscle. If left unchecked, it can negate all the hard work and benefits from training.

3. Increased Blood Flow

Optimal oxygenation and blood flow are crucial for endurance athletes. Ginseng, a popular adaptogen, has been found to increase nitric oxide production, which helps dilate blood vessels and enhances blood flow and oxygen delivery to working muscles. This improved circulation can result in better endurance performance, reduced muscle fatigue, and faster recovery.

Several factors can influence the amount of ginseng needed to support proper blood flow in athletes. These factors include age, weight, overall health condition, and the athlete’s response to ginseng. Research suggests that consuming 200-400 milligrams of ginseng daily may help enhance blood flow. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that ginseng is not a quick fix for blood flow issues. To fully benefit from its potential effects, consistent and prolonged use may be necessary.

4. Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Intense and prolonged exercise can induce inflammation in the body, negatively impacting performance and recovery. Adaptogens such as curcumin (turmeric) and ginger possess potent anti-inflammatory properties, helping you manage exercise-induced inflammation. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties allow it to help control inflammation by regulating transcription factors, cytokines, protein kinases, enzymes, and many other sub-processes and compounds that are involved in inflammation. In fact, scientists have found evidence that curcumin could actually be just as, if not more, effective as an anti-inflammatory than ibuprofen or aspirin (which you don’t really want to be taking anyway)! By reducing inflammation, these adaptogens support tissue repair and enhance overall athletic performance.

Currently, there are no official recommendations on the intake of curcumin. However, the research suggests 500-1000 mg twice a day or as needed to feel improvements. If you do decide to take a turmeric or curcumin supplement, it is important to pair your dose with an adequate dose of piperine. Piperine is a bioactive alkaloid compound found in black pepper. One study suggests that adding 20mg of piperine to 2g of curcumin can increase the absorption of curcumin by 2000%. 

Added Benefits for Female Athletes

In addition to this already impressive list of benefits, curcumin has also been shown to have several benefits unique to female athletes. Multiple studies on curcumin have found that the substance can decrease the intensity and pain during periods. Curcumin has also been shown to have antispasmodic properties that help with menstrual cramps.

5. Enhanced Mental Focus and Stamina

Endurance sports require both physical and mental stamina. Certain adaptogens, such as Panax ginseng and Bacopa monnieri, have been shown to improve cognitive function, memory, and focus. By reducing mental fatigue and enhancing concentration, these adaptogens can help athletes maintain a clear mind during long-duration events.

Adaptogens Infographicblog

Adaptogenic Mushrooms 

Adaptogen mushrooms have gained popularity in the sports performance industry as natural supplements to enhance athletic performance and recovery. I have personally used and loved Cordyceps, Reishi, Lion’s Mane, and Turkey Tail. 


Cordyceps, derived from a parasitic fungus that grows on caterpillars, has been hailed for its ability to increase endurance and energy levels. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that Cordyceps supplementation significantly improved exercise performance in healthy older adults. Another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Medicine showed that Cordyceps supplementation led to increased oxygen uptake and ATP production, ultimately improving endurance in athletes.


Reishi, known as the “mushroom of immortality,” is valued for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. A study published in the “International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms” demonstrated that Reishi supplementation reduced muscle damage markers and inflammation after exercise. Additionally, Reishi has been found to enhance the body’s ability to adapt to physical stress, allowing athletes to recover faster and perform better in subsequent workouts.

Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane is praised for its potential to improve cognitive function and focus. A study published in the “Pharmaceutical Biology” journal found that Lion’s Mane extract increased the expression of nerve growth factor (NGF) in rats, a protein that stimulates the growth and repair of neurons. Improved cognitive function and mental clarity can greatly benefit athletes during training and competition.

While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind adaptogen mushrooms’ effects on sports performance, these studies suggest promising benefits.

Adding Adaptogens to Your Routine

Everyone’s body is unique and will have a different response to consuming adaptogens. It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian experienced in sports nutrition to determine the most suitable adaptogens and dosages for your specific needs. 

And, as with all herbal supplements, some adaptogens can and do interact with and negatively impact prescription medications. Also, remember to only use supplements that are 3rd party tested. Just because it’s marked “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe (or effective!). 

If you do decide to start adding adaptogens to your routine, here are some helpful tips to consider:

Start with Single Adaptogens 
Begin by incorporating one adaptogen at a time to assess your body’s response and tolerance. This allows you to identify the adaptogens that work best for you.

Choose Quality Products
Opt for high-quality adaptogen products from reputable brands to ensure purity, potency, and safety.

Pay Attention to Dosage and Timing
Follow the recommended dosages provided by the manufacturer or consult with a healthcare professional. Timing of adaptogen consumption may vary depending on the adaptogen and your training schedule.

Combine with a Balanced Nutrition
Adaptogens work synergistically with a well-rounded, nutrient-dense diet. Incorporate adaptogens into meals, smoothies, or teas along with whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.

Monitor and Assess
Pay attention to any changes in your performance, recovery, and overall well-being. Keep a journal to track your progress and make adjustments if necessary.


So many athletes focus on the 1% of things and completely miss the more important 99% of things. I’m a big believer in making sure your daily diet, sleep, stress management, and social/spiritual/mental health are dialed in before adding supplements to your routine.

Blood work is needed to reveal vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and a lifestyle review is needed to determine deficiencies. Taking supplements with a horrible diet while working a high-stress job and only getting 4 hours of sleep is like getting a new roof on a house with no foundation, windows, or doors. Supplements are meant to complement a dialed-in and healthy lifestyle, they are not meant to compensate for poor habits. 

As an athlete involved in endurance sports, you are constantly pushing your limits and striving for peak performance. By integrating adaptogens into your routine, you can tap into the power of these natural substances to enhance your endurance, boost recovery, and maintain mental resilience. However, it’s important to remember that adaptogens are not a magic pill. They are one piece of the puzzle that can contribute to your overall success as an athlete.


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About Elizabeth Inpyn

Elizabeth is a former NCAA Division 1 swimmer and water polo player, multiple podium triathlete (Olympic and 70.3 distance) and a USAT National Qualifier. She’s a certified sports nutritionist, holds an ISSN and Plant-based nutrition certification, a Masters of Science in Applied Exercise Science: Sports Nutrition and a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of California Santa Barbara. As a performance nutrition coach at Fuelin, Elizabeth helps professional and elite competitors and teams, recreational athletes and coaches achieve their health, performance and wellness goals.

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