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How adaptogens help athletes

SEP 1, 2023

Minute 1: How does your body develop over time with exercise?

If you’re reading this newsletter, you understand that exercising builds muscle and endurance capacity. But how many of us really understand the biological roots behind that truism? If you are a running geek like us, this type of content is miles better than binge-watching Suits or Ted Lasso: “Understanding the Timeline of Training Adaptations.” The first step to improving your running is building your aerobic base. That makes sense, since your cardiovascular system starts improving almost immediately after you start an exercise routine. Your heart’s stroke volume increases, as do the number of capillaries supplying blood to your muscles, making your body more efficient at transporting oxygen where it needs to go. After that, a process called mitochondrial biogenesis takes place. You might remember from biology class that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. As the number of mitochondria you have increases, so will your body’s ability to put out power. Finally, the advanced stages of adaptation are an increased lactate threshold and muscle growth. Early on, muscle growth is slow, because your nervous system is adapting to better activate your existing muscles. That’s according to “How Do Muscles Grow? The Science of Muscle Growth.” It’s important to remember that while exercise is the stimulus that starts muscle growth, the actual process occurs while you’re at rest, so don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep after hitting the gym or track.

Minute 2: Are adaptogens the real deal for athletes?

While we’re on the subject of adapting to training, we should mention some new research on adaptogens. Adaptogens are a class of herbs and botanical compounds that have been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Research indicates they’ve got a lot of potential benefits when used by athletes, according to this story from Training Peaks: “Adaptogens for Athletes: Benefits, Types & How to Supplement.” Experts believe adaptogens work by moderating our stress responses, altering cell function, and regulating hormones. For instance, Rhodiola rosea root extract is a supplement that can improve mitochondrial function to produce more ATP. That’s one of your main sources of energy, so you may experience a boost in endurance performance when taking a sufficient dose. Adaptogens can be found in foods like mushrooms, or in supplement form, and if you want to see some popular options, check out these “6 Adaptogenic mushrooms and their health benefits.” Chaga mushrooms can lower blood sugar, Reishi mushrooms can boost your immune system and improve sleep, and Cordyceps mushrooms increase stamina and energy. Mushrooms aren’t the only source of adaptogens, though, and for a few more, take a look at: “What Are Adaptogens, and Should You Add Them to Your Diet?” Included on the list is Siberian Ginseng, which has been used to restore energy during bouts of stress or exhaustion.

Minute 3: Mindset and visualization can aid in injury recovery

If a doctor tells you that you’ll probably never walk again, most ordinary athletes visualize a future of wheelchair sports and dramatic lifestyle changes. Ryan Shazier is no ordinary person, however. He was a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers before experiencing a debilitating injury in 2017 that left his body paralyzed from the waist down. Despite overwhelming odds, he’s back on his feet, and ordinary weekend warriors can apply his recovery approach to improve their training whether they are facing a serious injury or not: “The Mindset That Helped Ryan Shazier Walk Again.” Sports psychologist Rick Jensen says that positive attitude is what made the difference. The tools Shazier used – visualization and positive intent – can actually physically stimulate your muscles, and over time, will develop your skills and foster injury recovery in a meaningful way. In fact, visualization can be a powerful tool for athletes, both when recovering from injury and preparing for competition. To learn how it works, take a look at: “Sports Visualization Techniques for Athletes.” Just like performing a motion over and over can form muscle memory to make it second nature, you can imagine an athletic performance in your mind that allows you to have a virtual training session. The experience isn’t real, but the results are, and coaches have found visualizations can improve confidence, reduce anxiety, and increase motivation on the eve of competition.

Minute 4: Shoe Review: Hoka Stinson 7 ($170)

Our favorite shoe reviewer, Brian Metzler, is a terrific guy and a good friend, but his Instagram posts from Chamonix are triggering our FOMO. Personal jealousies aside, Brian continues to produce excellent shoe reviews from the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc trail running festival. This week he weighs in on an old favorite, the Hoka Stinson 7. Hoka’s roots are in ultra trail running, although the brand has increased its reach to everyday folks logging miles on pavement. All of the innovation required to produce a shoe for a 200-mile race has trickled down into standard consumer models. The highlights of his latest review are below, but you can find the full version on our website.

What’s New: The Hoka Stinson 7 has been updated with a new compression-molded EVA midsole that’s quite a bit softer and thicker than the previous edition. It’s built into a new structure called the H-Frame, a firm foam skeleton embedded in the midsole that provides stability, and a new low-profile outsole with 4mm lugs that has increased the shoe’s traction on smooth rock surfaces and loose gravel.

Why It’s Great: It’s great because it’s extremely stable and sturdy. The wide footprint and supportive structure, combined with the semi-firm foam package and excellent traction give the Stinson 7 great inherent lateral stability. Unlike some trail running shoes that have a tendency to roll to one side or the other, the Stinson 7 won’t wobble or tip, even on rugged terrain.

Why You’ll Love It: In some ways, the Stinson 7 is like a piece of hard candy with a soft, gooey chocolate on the inside. Although the shoe is minimally flexible and seemingly hard to bend, the increased midsole stack height and softer foams of the Stinson 7 engage the moment your foot hits the ground. That soft interior structure provides shock-absorbing cushioning and a responsive boost of energy that, combined with the shoe’s slightly concave “rocker” geometry, serves up a rolling sensation that guides your foot to the toe-off phase of a stride. All of that somehow combines for a surprisingly efficient gait pattern while running on flat, smooth trails and an effective mechanism for maneuvering over trails cluttered with rocky debris too.

For Brian’s full review of the new Hoka Stinson 7, check it out here.

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • If you want a healthy beverage, you can’t go wrong with something as simple as water. Obviously, it’s essential to drink water every day, but can mineral or sparkling water take the place of regular water? Generally speaking, dieticians say yes, and in fact, the bubbly version could even offer some additional benefits. There are a few downsides to look out for as well, so to learn all about it, read: “Health Benefits of Mineral Water” and “Is Carbonated Water Just as Healthy as Still Water?

  • Stagnation is an athlete’s kryptonite. That’s why it's so important to stay mobile if you spend a lot of time sitting down at work or home. At least when you’re in those places, it’s easy to give yourself an “exercise snack” to break up the day. When you’re traveling, however, things aren’t so simple. Taking a long flight can be quite the challenge for people who are prone to back pain or other soreness, and if that sounds like you, consider adopting “The Best Stretches to Try Before a Long Flight.” And as an added bonus, follow along with this video from @dr.matt_tcom to open up your hips, an area that is way too tight for most of our running friends.

  • Most Olympic competitors are working at their athletic goals full time. That makes Nathan Martin an exceptional case, since he’s been working as a high school track coach and substitute teacher while training for international competition. Despite all that professional responsibility, Marin recently managed to become the fastest U.S.-born Black marathoner ever with a time of 2:11.05. Now, he’s on track to making the U.S Olympic marathon team, and if you want to know the training approach that took him to this PR, read: “The Top Marathons Ignored Him. Then Nathan Martin Set a Record That Changed His Life.”

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

@leighclarkreckner is both a mom and fitness coach, and we know it’s not easy to balance those responsibilities. Despite the difficulty, we can tell she does a stellar job in both roles, and her recent video is a perfect example of how to merge parenting and exercise in a fun way. If you’re up for the challenge, here it is: Do a pushup every time your child calls out “Mom!” (or “Dad!”). We’re sure there are some children out there who will make this challenge impossibly difficult, so for the parents of exceptionally vocal kids, we encourage you to use discretion when deciding how strict to follow along. No shame in substituting air squats or sit-ups when your arms start throbbing.


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