Although the use of Western herbs for health, vitality, and recovery may not boast the lengthy history that Eastern Herbs do, there are still several that have been closely examined for their benefits and are worth discussing here. Let’s talk about how Western Herbs can assist in athletic recovery.
Western Herbs Found and Defined
Western Herbs leverage the use of adaptogens when it comes to exercise and recovery. As one might gather, adaptogens help the body adapt to stressful conditions. These stressful conditions could be a number of life circumstances, but in the case of athletes, it refers to whatever exercise, training, or competition they’ve just participated in. Taking apoptogenic herbs helps the recovery process afterward.
Western Herbs were found in the 1940’s by Russian scientists but it’s important to note that the herbs covered in this article are also used by other cultures and traditions, and are merely presented from a lense of Western cultures. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, these same herbs are referred to as, “chi tonics,” (or qi tonics) and in Ayurvedic practice, they’re known as Rasayana. Prior to being called adaptogens, Traditional Western Herbalists called these herbs trophrestoratives or modulators.
Most Helpful Western Herbs
Although the number of herbal preparations on the market is too numerous to list, there is a handful of herbs that tops the charts in proving their worth in athletic practice, providing support during competition and intense training periods. These helpful herbs include:
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum): This is also known as holy basil. It can be referred to as the “The Great Protector” in Ayurvedic traditions and cultures because it helps calm the nervous system without impeding the digestive and immune systems. It can both calm and energize the body post-workout and/or exercise. It does this by reducing the human body’s stress response, like cortisol production and insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to continue to focus on “rest and digest” work.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): This is also known as roseroot. It’s a Siberian herb that helps improve mental clarity, focus, and increase overall energy. This is because Rhodiola plays a supportive role in the human body making adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy source for all cells. One caveat is that if your body is sensitive, be mindful that Rhodiola can be stimulating. Starting with smaller doses and working up is advised. Alternatively, you can seek medical advice from a credentialed professional if you have concerns.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): This herb has been shown to support healthy libido and immune system. It helps to balance the adrenal-endocrine system. If you tend to have sleep disturbances the night after rigorous movement, this herb is known to promote healthy sleep. As a result, if you wake up feeling rested, the human body can function more optimally during the day to help it to continue recovery efforts the next day.
Oxidative Stress and Western Herbs
Nutrition plays a key role in recovering from oxidative stress; while it’s imperative to make sure your athlete’s post-exercise nutrition is on point, the following herbs can also assist:
Lychii (Lycium barbarum or L. chineses): This is also known as goji berry or wolfberry. Lychii helps the human body replenish its blood supply. This helps support a healthy circulatory system, allowing the body to remove free radicals. Athletes can eat these as a stand-alone snack or add them to smoothies or cereal.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia or C. ceylon) is very effective to help the human body track down excessive free radicals and get rid of them. This is because cinnamon contains free radical-scavenging properties and constituents. Cinnamon is referred to as being ‘hot’ or having ‘hot properties.’ This means that it’s very stimulating and can get an athlete’s energy moving. Sometimes athletes pair cinnamon with the more subtle working rose hips and/or hibiscus. It can be taken daily as maintenance so there’s a steady supply available in the body or it can be taken as needed post-exercise. You can drink it as a tea or make a tea/warm beverage by boiling a cinnamon stick and drinking the liquid.
Rose hips (Rosa spp.) and hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis or H. sabdariffa) are high in vitamin C, making them a potent set of antioxidant herbs. Both support healthy circulation and reduce inflammation. They can be mildly diuretic, so be mindful to take these in moderation. Rose hips tend to be less diuretic and mildly warming. Since Rose hips can be warming, athletes in colder climates and athletes in warmer climates might want to take hibiscus. If your athlete lives in alternating climates, rose hips can help during colder months and hibiscus can help in warmer months. These can be added to tea or bought and drank as teas.
It is important to note that anyone with underlying or pre-existing medical conditions shouild discuss the use of herbs for post-exercise recovery or as partof a daily preventive routine with a credentialed medical provider. Using herbs is not without its opposing viewpoints. While these herbs often can be eaten as snacks, as part of meals, or teas, they can still alter the human body’s physiology. As such, if you’re taking other adaptogens or supplements that do the same thing, please proceed with caution. Adding additional adaptogens can create a synergistic effect and actually be detrimental to recovery.
Some of these herbs are now available in more potent capsule tablet forms. It’s important to do a little research before purchasing and taking these products to make sure they come from reliable, quality-assured sources.
Also, sometimes the human body can respond differently to an herb than in most cases. This is no different than if you are taking a supplement and find that you are allergic to an ingredient in it or the casing, or simply that your body is not responding to it whereas most people do. In this case, be prudent about the decision to continue on it or not.
I’d encourage you to be open-minded and enjoy the process of trying some the herbs mentioned for post-exercise recovery, and discuss them with your clients. As always the body is the best teacher, and how it responds the most valuable lesson.