Many of us rely on coffee to boost our energy and provide performance benefits. But you may be happy to know there are alternative plant-based beverages that can lift your energy and enhance your running. If caffeine makes you too jittery, coffee acidity doesn’t sit well with you, or you are just keen to learn about alternatives to your cup of Joe here’s what you need to know:
The green beverage that is increasingly popping up everywhere, matcha is a drink made from finely-ground green tea leaves, incredibly rich in antioxidants and great for boosting energy. When you drink matcha you consume the leaves versus simply extracting from them as you would when you infuse tea leaves in hot water. This means that you get an extra boost of the green tea benefits—and energy—as a result.
Matcha’s benefits include:
• Enhanced concentration and cognitive performance, including speed of attention and episodic secondary memory.
• High volume of free-radical scavenging antioxidants, which help remove the free radicals that naturally build up from energy production during running
• Contains L-Theanine, a compound which works with the naturally occurring caffeine in matcha to offer a calming boost to your energy, in contrast to the jolt and jitteriness sometimes experienced by caffeine alone.
The basic definition of an adaptogen is a plant or natural product that helps your body adapt to stress. This could be mental or emotional stress, or in the case of running and endurance sports, physical stress. Running requires adapting both to the stresses of the performance itself and to the impact on the body and the recovery afterwards. Some common adaptogens which can be beneficial for long distance runners include:
1) Ashwagandha – In addition to being able to support a healthy immune system, the Ashwagandha root enhances cardiorespiratory endurance, so you can sustain harder efforts for longer periods of time. Ashwagandha increases the body’s resistance to physical and psychological stressors and been shown to increase VO2 max.
2) Eleuthero – Also known as Siberian Ginseng, this adaptogen was one of the earliest to be recognized and adopted. There has been extensive research on its ability to help minimize fatigue during endurance activities through protecting the body from stress, as well as enhancing focus during times of fatigue such that one feels more energized.
3) Rhodiola – Another fatigue fighting adaptogen, the rhodiola root has been shown to enhance physical performance and decrease mental fatigue.
It’s important to note that adaptogens are not for everyone and some people react adversely to them. In some cases, it can simply be too much at one time, or not in the right dosage, and you may experience difficulty sleeping or excitability. They may not be suitable for individuals with immune disorders and it is important to make sure the adaptogen you choose is not contraindicated with any pharmacological drugs you may be taking.
While adaptogens are able to offer stress-busting properties to the body, some studies have shown that these effects are optimized when users only take adaptogens for a period of time—two to three months—and then give the body a break. Doing so will allow the body to more effectively benefit from the properties the adaptogens have to offer, and make the energy boost more effective when you need it.
While mushrooms fall under the umbrella of adaptogens, their vastness and complexity makes them deserve their own special category. Adaoptogenic mushrooms fall under a different category than those which you would eat, and you may not be familiar with the details of the different varieties, what they can do for you and how to use them as part of your training regime.
Think of each type of mushroom like you would different running workouts: each workout has its own purpose and goal. Likewise, each variety of mushroom has its own unique nutritional profile. And while they all offer exceptional benefits when it comes to antioxidants and can each provide a natural energy boost, you can get additional advantages depending on which variety you choose.
1) Reishi – This mushroom helps you relax and “chill out,” channelling your energy where it needs to go, while simultaneously boosting your immune system.
2) Cordyceps – This is the winner when it comes to endurance activities, as it helps increase the production of red blood cells and enhances the body’s ability to produce ATP and deliver oxygen.
3) Lion’s Mane – This is the brain food mushrooms. Consumption of Lion’s Mane has been shown to enhance neurite growth in the brain. And we all know how much brain power it takes to succeed in running.
Purchase mushroom powders and dissolve them in hot water for your pre long run energy kick, or add them into smoothies for optimized post run recovery. Several other mushroom varieties provide similar boosts, including Chaga, Tremella and Turkey Tail, so don’t hesitate to try out different options and find the one that picks you up the most.