Adaptogens belong to a group biological active compounds exerting toning effects on the body, stimulating activity of central nervous system, enhancing stamina, and increasing resistance against various harmful factors. Adaptogen substances are generally contained by herbs and plants but they also can be synthesized using chemical methods. The term “adaptogen” is derived from the word “adaptation”. Generally, adaptogens are the remedies enhancing human adaptive capacity.
Adaptogen effects are realized through influencing the functions of nervous, endocrine, immune and cardiovascular systems, although detailed mechanisms of these activities are not clear yet. All adaptogen herbs contain a complex variety of bioactive compounds, therefore, their mechanisms are quite diverse. Herbal adaptogens influence DNA synthesis, regulate hormone metabolism, alter brain functions, activate metabolic processes, enhance body protection systems via activation of cellular and humoral immunity.
Herbal adaptogens contain such biological active compounds as flavonoids, glycosides, polysaccharides, phytosterols (ecdisteron), terpeniods, hydroxylated fatty acids, and glycoproteins.
Synthetic adaptogens are barely used in sports because they do not make any significant influence on athletic results. That is why below the main attention is going to be given to herbal adaptogens.
Nowadays, there is a great number of herbal adaptogens and the most popular among them are the following: ginseng, eleuthero, schisandra, and rhodiola rosea. In some cases, the following natural sources are mentioned as adaptogens such as pollen, royal jelly, drill brood, ambrosia and some others, but there are no experimental and clinical evidences of their efficacy.
Herbal adaptogens were found to exert the following effects in athletes:
- Dramatic increase of the physical performance, in particular, power endurance strengthening;
- Increase of fatigability threshold;
- Play important role in liquidation of the post-workout acidosis (acid pH shift in the body);
- Contribution to the glycogen accumulation in muscles, liver and heart;
- Glucose phosphorylation activation resulting in improved metabolism of sugars, lipids, and proteins;
- Enhance mental activity;
- Activate general metabolism;
- Prevent over-training;
- Help mental concentration;
- Improve mood and motivation for workout;
- Improve appetites;
- Enhance body adaptation capacity to tough ambient conditions and formation of the resistance against various harmful factors (heat, cold, thirst, hunger, infections, mental and emotional stresses) with shortened period of adaptation to these factors.
- Help antioxidant systems in prevention of toxic effects of lipid peroxidation induced by the long physical exercises;
- Enhance resistance of cells and tissues to the lack of oxygen (anti-hypoxia effects);
- Modulate activity of the humoral and cellular immunity;
- Provide anabolic activity;
- Improve blood microcirculation.
It should be also noted that the typical herbal adaptogens almost do not alter normal body functions.
There are several herbal adaptogens commonly used in sports which activity was confirmed through clinical trials. Oral intake of the ginseng or eleutherococcus extracts by secretary women was proven to reduce the number of mistakes when typing. Herbal adaptogens were also studied in clinical trials with athletes. The results of several bicyclists taking eleutherococcus extract for 12 days were significantly higher than those of a control group.
The following adaptogen are recognized the most potent for sports: ginseng, eleutherococcus, rhodiola rosea, leuzea (or Maral root), and aralia. These adaptogens have a mass of scientific evidences. Up-to-date, there are more than thousand studies performed confirming that these herbs are effective.
Adaptogens can be taken by athletes because they are not designated to the group of doping substances. Their effects can be noted within several hours after the first intake. Almost all adaptogens should be taken before noon because they activate mental activity and prevent sleepiness. Such adaptogens like Rhodiola exert opposite effects helping to calm emotional activities and relief of stress, so it is better to take them at the end of day.
Generally, adaptogens are not recommended for a permanent consumption and should be taken in courses 1.5-2 months long each because the body systems can adapt to their influence and their effects may disappear. The highest efficiency may be reached through the taking of a couple of adaptogens at the same time.
Apart from the similar properties, each adaptogen herb has its own peculiarities and their influence on the body may vary a lot. That is why combining and alternation of different adaptogens is recommended taking to account all their specific effects.
For example, aralia significantly increases cell membrane permeability to glucose. Glucose oxidation inside the cells becomes faster.
Leuzea possesses very high metabolic activity whereas other adaptogens do not exert such effect.
Specific property of schisandra is its capacity to increase excitation processes in brain.
Rhodiola rosea has specific influence on the muscle tissues and heart muscle as well as it exerts stress relieving effects.
Eleutherococcus is successfully used for increased energy output over competitions.
Effects of almost all adaptogens are prone to accumulation, so their use is more effective when it goes for 30-45 days. Herbal adaptogens have no adverse effects and considered non-toxic even when taken in large doses. Some small side signs are not dangerous such as insomnia, allergy, individual intolerance, and increased myometrium tone. All listed side effects are reversible and quickly disappear after the adaptogen intake is discontinued.