Herbs & Health

fact file
Maximise your workout

Most of us aim to have a healthy, toned body, along with endless energy and stamina to do the things we enjoy. The road towards this goal can sometimes be rocky but, with the right nutrition and herbal supplements, it is achievable.

If you have made the decision to turn your life around and make exercise a regular part of your weekly routine, then congratulations! You have taken the first important step. The next step is optimising your exercise routine to get the maximum benefit, and there are a number of ways of doing this.

Diet makes a difference
Eating a nutritious meal a couple of hours before a workout can improve your muscle strength, energy levels and stamina. Protein is an important nutrient because it provides essential amino acids that help to build muscle. Protein can be found in poultry, eggs, dairy products, meat, fish or a basic protein shake. Take note however that suddenly increasing your protein intake may lead to indigestion, if this is the case then supplementing with protein digesting aids such as betaine hydrochloride and pepsin will help improve your protein digestion.

Carbohydrates are another important nutrient, providing you with energy for your workout. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates before exercising, your body may break down muscle tissue to make energy. So also ensure you consume foods such as brown rice, multigrain breads or sweet potatoes prior to an extensive workout as they are good sources of carbohydrates and are low GI which means they release energy slowly throughout your workout.
If you do find that changes in your diet leads to indigestion, heartburn, gas or bloating then give chewable papaya mints a try. These are a natural digestive aid and will help your body break down protein, and assist with carbohydrate and fat digestion. They can be taken prior-to, in-between or after meals to help relieve symptoms.

B group vitamins
Make sure you are consuming sufficient B group vitamins in your diet, they act as cofactors in energy production and it is very difficult for the body to maintain and generate energy without adequate vitamin B levels. Foods such as breads and cereals are often fortified with B group vitamins. Alternatively a good vitamin B complex supplement will ensure you have this covered.

Coenzyme Q10
Another nutrient vital to energy production is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10 plays an essential role in providing energy to the body through mitochondria, the energy-producing organelles in all the body’s cells. Due to CoQ10s role in energy metabolism some have speculated that it may also improve athletic performance. A double-blind crossover trial (Ylikoski et al 1997) concluded that 94 per cent of participants felt that CoQ10 improved their performance and recovery time compared with only 33 per cent that were taking the placebo. 

CoQ10 is produced naturally in all cells, but this production decreases as we age, and has been linked to a wide variety of disorders. Research suggests that individuals taking cholesterol-lowering statin medications should consider taking a CoQ10 supplement as statins may reduce blood CoQ10 levels.

Top herbals to power your workout

Cordyceps sinensis is one of the most valued and potent fungi in Chinese medicine. Clinical studies support the use of this herb for boosting endurance and stamina, as well as for relieving fatigue, particularly post-exercise fatigue. Cordyceps is believed to be the reason behind the success of the Chinese Olympic track and field team in 1993, when performance-enhancing drugs were suspected but not detected. The coach revealed that the team was drinking a tonic made from Cordyceps, sparking interest in the use of the herb.

Due to its rarity, be sure to always source a commercially grown CS-4 strain of Cordyceps that is made through a patented fermentation process. Cordyceps needs to be taken for three to four weeks before improvements are noticed. An added bonus is that Cordyceps also appears to boost low testosterone levels, thereby improving male sexual performance.

Tribulus terrestris is an Indian Ayurvedic restorative herb traditionally used as a male tonic. It is beneficial during times of increased physical demand and nervous tension. Reported to be the “secret weapon” of Bulgarian strength athletes, Tribulus plays a role in muscle growth as well as enhanced sexual desire.
The active ingredient in Tribulus, protodioscin, is thought to increase testosterone levels by indirectly raising blood levels of luteinising hormone (LH), which, produced by the pituitary gland, is responsible for increasing natural testosterone levels. Testosterone plays a major role in muscle building because it promotes protein synthesis. It also reduces protein degradation that can result from over-training and low-calorie diets.

Rhodiola rosea is one of the world’s great adaptogens. This herb helps the body and mind adapt to the physical, mental and emotional effects of stress, which contribute to fatigue.   Even though it has been studied for more than 35 years, Rhodiola has only recently become available in Australia. While popular as a tonic, giving strength and stamina to people recovering from long-term illnesses, Rhodiola is also used to increase physical endurance, and has been shown to shorten recovery time after prolonged workouts. As an added bonus, Rhodiola can also increase concentration during times of intense mental activity.

 Avoiding muscle cramps with Magnesium

Experiencing cramping during an exercise session is common, and can be due to dehydration or lack of magnesium. You may also experience cramping at night, along with restless leg syndrome, a disorder where, no matter what you do, you cannot get comfortable because your legs won’t relax.  Disturbed sleep also reduces your effectiveness when you are training. To prevent this, you can take magnesium supplements. Magnesium is essential for nerve impulses, which can improve restless leg syndrome, and will reduce cramping to induce a restful night’s sleep.

Alleviating post-exercise pain
Post-workout pain is normal, especially if you have started a new routine, increased intensity and duration, or are just beginning to exercise after a long period of inactivity.

The pain you feel post-workout is very different from the burning pain you feel while exercising, which is lactic acid and a normal by-product of exercising. Post-workout pain, also known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is the result of microscopic tears in the muscle. Normal and desirable, this is actually part of a process of building new, bigger and stronger muscle that will help with endurance. The onset is usually 12 to 24 hours after exercise, and the pain can last for up to seven days. Always incorporate a warming up and cooling down stretching session before and after a workout, as this will increase your circulation which will help to reduce the pain. For major workouts, an ice bath directly afterwards and a massage with arnica cream can help to relieve muscle pain and tension.  

Recently studies have indicated that Ginger may also have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects beneficial for post-exercise pain. In a trial published in the Journal of Pain (April 2010), patients were assigned either 2g of supplemental Ginger or placebo to be taken daily for 11 days. Elbow extensions with heavy weights were then used to induce pain and inflammation. The results showed a 24 per cent reduction in pain within 24 hours after exercise among those who took the Ginger supplements.