7 Best Adaptogens with Benefits for Runners

Chances are you’ve heard of adaptogens (also known as adaptogenic herbs), and the long list of adaptogen benefits , but aren’t sure what they are—or what you should take, how much, and why.

I got you.

Simply put, adaptogens are natural herbs and mushrooms that can help keep your body balanced for optimal functioning. By doing this, they can help runners train hard, recovery better, and perform optimally.

Adaptogens have potential benefits for runners and people with overall health goals.

For this article, I got with registered sports dietitian Megan Robinson and also consulted exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist Dr. Stacy Sims’ book, Next Level, and research, to outline the best adaptogens for runners (particularly female runners).

In this article, I will explain:

  • What are adaptogens?
  • How do adaptogens helps athletes?
  • What are common adaptogen benefits?
  • What does the research say about adaptogens?
  • And the 7 best adaptogens for runners

As always, please note I am not a doctor! And most supplements, including adaptogens, can interact with medications so make sure you talk with your doctor before taking any supplements or natural adaptogens.

Okay, now let’s go!

Related: Tart Cherry Juice Benefits for Runners

What is an adaptogen?

An adaptogen is most often an herb or mushroom used to help improve the body’s ability to adapt to environmental stressors such as fatigue related to sleep deprivation or intense training, mental health, toxic exposure, extreme temperatures, and infection. 

Adaptogens are rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, dating back to 3000 BCE. The term adaptogen was coined in the 1940s by Soviet Scientists.

Adaptogen benefits have been shown in small studies to aid with healing but cannot cure or treat any disease. 

Herbs that claim to be an adaptogen must fit the following criteria:

  • Not cause disruptions but help normalize with normal physiological functions of the body.
  • Improve the body’s resistance against environmental stressors.

What are benefits of adaptogens?

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Pin these best adaptogen benefits for runners for later!

Adaptogens have been shown to regulate the body and restore balance to the neuroendocrine, immune, and cardiovascular systems.

Therefore, below are some of the potential adaptogen benefits include:

  • Improve mood
  • Balance hormones
  • Fight physical and mental fatigue
  • Boost the immunity system
  • Improve cognition and brain function
  • Fight chronic stress and the effects of stress
  • Alleviate chronic inflammation
  • Increase muscle strength and working capacity
  • Accelerate recovery

Related: How to Stay Healthy this Winter 

How do adaptogens help athletes?

There are adaptogen benefits for most everyone, especially runners and athletes.

As Robinson explains, runners face the demands of training, fatigue, and stressful situations like races which can negatively impact your recovery and sports performance.

Adaptogens have been shown to accelerate recovery, reduce stress, and improve your mental and physical health which can all enhance sports performance.

Who should not take adaptogens?

  • Certain people should avoid adaptogens such as:
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • People taking certain medications
  • Diabetics
  • People with high blood pressure
  • Those with stomach ulcers or a history of stomach ulcers
  • People who have autoimmune disorders
  • Those with thyroid disorders or issues, and
  • Surgery candidates

ALWAYS talk to your doctor before starting a supplement, including adaptogens.

Related: Is AG1 Worth It?

While I am talking about adaptogen benefits and dietary supplements, if you are looking for a quality supplement including a multi-vitamin, joint health, or immune support, Previnex is the best quality supplement on the market. You can save 15% with code TMR15 and get your moneyback if you do not notice any results in 30 days.

Related: The 13 Best Supplements for Runners

What are the risks of taking adaptogens?

While the health claims of adaptogen benefits are promising, most research has been done using animal studies or a small clinical trial. Large clinical studies and human trials are still needed to substantiate claims.

Also, like the rest of dietary supplements, adaptogens aren’t regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, thereby your risk taking something that isn’t what it claims to be or could be contaminated. Aim to choose an adaptogen from a reputable brand that has undergone third part testing such as the USP, NSF Sport, or ConsumerLab.com, notes Robinson. (Get more tips on how to choose a quality supplement here).

Remember that adaptogens can’t cure a disease or fix a condition. Along with healthy lifestyle habits like proper rest and recovery and a nutritious balanced diet, adaptogens may aid in your running performance and recovery, and overall health.

adaptogen benefits pin
Pin these best adaptogen benefits for runners for later!

Adaptogens may interact with some medications and have some serious side effects, so again always talk to your doctor first.  

Adaptogens may also be accompanied with some side effects such as:

  • Nausea, diarrhea or upset stomach
  • Dry mouth, and
  • Headache

Related: Should Runners Drink MD/WTR?

What is the best adaptogen for athletes?

Ashwagandha is the most common adaptogen for athletes, including runners, as it has been shown to improve athletic performance by increasing cardiorespiratory endurance and VO2 max, and muscle growth by regulating the ratio between testosterone and cortisol levels.

Ashwagandha has also been indicated to improve sleep (thereby improving recovery) and boost your immune system.

Other benefits of ashwagandha include:

  • improves cognitive function
  • reduces blood sugar levels,
  • improves sexual function
  • promotes healthy weight loss,
  • and improves the heart health.

What are the best adaptogens for runners?

There are a plethora of adaptogens adaptogens on the market that can aid in reducing stress, but the below adaptogens may also aid in sports recovery and performance, according Dr. Sims.   

Below are the top 7 adaptogens for athletes.

1. Ashwagandha

Effect: calming

Ashwagandha is one of the most common adaptogens and works to increase your DHEA (short for dehydroepiandrosterone). DHEA is a hormone that helps your body make other hormones like testosterone (crucial for recovery).

Ashwagandha also works to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (aka DOMS) after an intense workout, and lower anxiety and depression. It is a relaxant but doesn’t make you feel sluggish—more like chill energy.

Ashwagandha works to preserve brain health and protect against cognitive impairment. Studies show that can reduce stress levels and improve sleep. It’s one of the first adaptogens for most people to try and benefit from.

Recommended dosage: 250-600 mg to reduce cortisol and stress levels, and improve sleep

adaptogens tips instagram post
There are things to consider when taking adaptogens.

Potential Risk: Can interact with thyroid medication and not recommended if you have a history of hormone-sensitive prostate cancer. 

2. Holy Basil

Effects: calming

Holy Basil has been found to combat stress, improves blood sugar control, antioxidant acting, and enhances immunity, reduces stress—great for depression, anxiety and improves sleep.

Recommended dosage: 500 mg twice a day

Potential Risk: can reduce blood clotting. Don’t take if you are on an anti-coagulant.

Related: 3 Best Joint Supplements for Runners

3. Rhodiola Rosea

Effects: stimulating

Rhodiola rosea, also known as golden root, works to combat fatigue and improve cognitive function by balancing the levels of neurotransmitters like melatonin, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. (Neurotransmitters carry chemical messages from one nerve cell to another).

Rhodiola rosea thereby improves sleep, concentration, fights mental fatigue, and can decrease anxiety and irritability. It does this by normalizing stress hormones and improving energy metabolism through the boosting of mitochondrial function (your body’s energy powerhouses) which carries more ATP (energy). It may also help with the formation of new brain cells.

Recommended dosage: 150-600 mg a day, starting with 150 mg twice a day

Potential Risks: Can disrupt sleep so take early in the day. May also impact blood pressure and anti-depressants.

4. Schisandra

Effects: endurance

Schisandra, also known as the five-flavored fruit or magnolia berry, has been shown to boost endurance, mental performance, and working capacity. It does this by stimulating the central nervous system, balancing neurotransmitters, improving blood vessel compliance, and strengthening mitochondria (which improves exercise capacity).

Schisandra has also been shown to improve strength and lower lactate levels.  

Recommended dosage: 500 mg two times a day

Potential Risks: Taking late in the day can disrupt sleep. May upset your stomach.

Related: Running & Menopause: A Survival Guide

5. Maca

Effects: stimulating

Maca, also known as the Peruvian ginseng, is a hormone modulator with strong anti-inflammatory properties that works to regulate the adrenal gland and thyroid functions. Macan can thereby improve your energy levels, boost your mood, alleviate brain fog, and decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. It may also improve muscle strength.

Recommended dosage: up to 2-5 grams a day

Potential risks: may interfere with thyroid medications or cause issues. Also, some products with maca are banned by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).

6. Cordyceps

Effects: increase energy

Cordyceps is a fungus with compounds that help with modulating nitric oxide and inflammation, fatigue and depletion of adrenal glands and function, and resistance to physical, mental and emotional stress. For this reason, runners may find that cordyceps helps increase stamina, endurance, and energy levels. People have also used cordyceps to acclimate to altitude because it can help with oxygen transport.

Recommended dosage: 1.5-9g daily

Potential risks: may interfere with medications meant to decrease the immune system or slow blood clotting.

7. Reishi

Effects: anti-aging

The reishi mushroom is also known as the “mushroom of immortality.” Reishi mushrooms have been found that enhance the immune system, reduce chronic stress, improve sleep, lessen fatigue, and fight inflammation in the form of a superoxide which has been known to expedite aging. Runners are exposed to excessive oxidative stress with reishi combats, thereby this mushroom can help recovery as well as help with altitude training by increasing oxygen transport (just like cordyceps)

Recommended dosage: up to 3-6 grams a day

Potential risks: may interfere with blood pressure and blotting medications and may increase risk for bleeding.

Related: How to Tell if a Supplement is Good Quality 

Tips for  Taking Adaptogens

Below are tips from Sims’ book Next Level. I highly recommend this book for female athletes, especially those over 40.

  1. Go organic. Look for certified organic supplement brands that clearly state the amount of adaptogens in their products. Adaptogens are not regulated by the FDA so look for brands that are top-quality and transparent.
  2. Start small. Start with one adaptogen for your most bothersome symptoms. Use for 2 weeks to determine effect before starting others. Most people start with ashwagandha.
  3. Take breaks. Cycle off adaptogens. Use them for 7 weeks, then take a break for a few days before restarting. If you have been on them for a long time, take a break every 4 weeks.
  4. Be consistent. The form does not matter so use whatever (powder, pill, tincture, etc.) that works best for you that you will be consistent with as part of your wellness routine.
  5. Stay committed. Remember that adaptogen supplements are meant to be taken long term, so commit to take them for a while. You’ll see improvements in a lot of adaptogenic herbs and medicinal mushrooms in less than a month.
  6. Take them now or later. You can take adaptogens for existing symptoms or preemptively. Adaptogens can help you avoid symptoms down the road.
  7. Talk to your doctor. Adaptogens can have side effects and can interact with some medications, so be sure to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking adaptogens, or any other supplement.

If you want guidance with your running goals, including downhill race goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:



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