Panax ginseng has a long history of use as an athletic performance enhancer in the East. In the following four studies, various research teams from around the globe investigated the claims that Panax ginseng might have a beneficial effect on the performance of endurance related activities.
Study 1: Anti-fatigue activity of the water-soluble polysaccharides isolated from Panax ginseng C. A. Meyer. In a study done out of China’s Northeast Normal University, researchers set out to uncover whether Panax ginseng possessed any anti-fatigue properties for rats who were subjected to a forced swim test.
Specifically, the test was designed to see what portion of ginseng’s polysaccharides (WGP) were active, comparing both neutral (WGPN) and acidic (WGPA) portions of ginseng polysaccharides. In the test, rats were given either ginseng WGP, WGPN, or WGPA once daily for a period of 15 days.
After this time, their endurance was assessed through a forced swim test. It was found that at all dose levels, the acidic polysaccharides had a positive effect on the rat’s performance and was believed to be the active ingredient in improving endurance. This led the researchers to conclude that ginseng’s acidic polysaccharides have a positive effect on improving endurance in animal models.
Study 2: The effect of Panax ginseng on forced immobility time & immune function in mice. A South Korean study was done to see if Panax ginseng could have a positive effect on the immune function of people engaging in endurance based activity. After 7 days of administration of a supplement containing 10% ginsenoside, the rats were subjected to a forced swim test.
After the test, researchers measured changes in the rats immune system, as well as cytokine production in MOLT-4 cells and peritoneal macrophages. While the rats did not show a significant improvement in endurance during the forced swim test, they did show increased immune function, indicating that panax ginseng may be a useful supplement for endurance athletes.
Study 3: The effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus and Panax ginseng on steroidal hormone indices of stress and lymphocyte subset numbers in endurance athletes. An Australian study was undertaken to examine the effects of a Panax ginseng supplement on a group of endurance athletes during training seasons. The study participants received either a placebo or an ethanolic extract of Panax ginseng at a level of 8 mL/day, which was the equivalent of 4 grams of dried Panax ginseng root. Researchers measured cortisol, testosterone, and the ratio of testosterone to cortisol.
In addition to hormonal measurements, researchers measured the number of T-cells, CD4 cells, and T-suppressor cells. These measurements were taken both before and after six weeks of ginseng supplementation. After the six week period, the researchers failed to notice any significant changes the the athlete’s hormonal levels. This study does not support the idea that ginseng can be used as a supplement for endurance athletes.
Study 4: Differences between cold and hot natures of processed Radix ginseng rubra and Panax quinquefolius L. based upon mice temperature tropism. Internal temperature regulation is an extremely important aspect of endurance sports. A Chinese study was designed to test whether Panax ginseng can confer a greater ability to regulate body temperature after cold exposure and exhausting exercise.
Researchers divided the test rats into a weak group and a strong group. The rats in the weak group were fed a limited calorie diet and were forced to swim in cold water until almost drowning. The strong group of rats were fed a high-protein/high-calorie diet with unlimited access to food.
Changes in internal temperature were measured by the amount of time the rats spent on a warming pad located in their habitat. The results of the study demonstrated that the Panax ginseng root had a warming effect on both groups of rats, indicating potential improvement in endurance exercises performed in cold environments.
Conclusion While there needs to be more research done before a strong conclusion can be reached, it appears that Panax ginseng may have a beneficial effect on various types of activity involving endurance.
What the Doctor Recommends
Food before sport and exercise You should allow about three hours before you exercise after having a main meal, such as breakfast or lunch. An hour before exercising, having a light snack that contains some protein, and is higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat, is a good choice to help you perform during your training and recover afterwards.
Choose a snack that you'll digest quickly, like:
fruit, such as a banana
a slice of wholegrain bread spread thinly with a nut butter
a plain or fruit scone with low-fat cheese
yoghurt or non-dairy alternatives
cottage cheese and crackers
a glass of milk or non-dairy alternatives
Snacks to avoid before exercise These types of food may cause stomach discomfort if eaten just before exercising. Fatty foods, like:
chips or french fries
large amounts of nuts
High-fibre foods, like:
raw nuts and seeds
Food and drink during exercise Most exercise lasting less than 60 minutes only requires water. If you're exercising for longer, have a quick-digesting carbohydrate and some electrolytes (salts and minerals), such as:
an isotonic sports drink
a glass of milk
a cereal or sports bar
Make sure you're drinking enough water (or similar) during your effort.
Water and exercise Not drinking enough water can have a major effect on your performance. You should start any exercise session well hydrated. This means drinking water regularly throughout the day. The choice of drink depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise, and your training goals.
only water is needed for moderate exercise that lasts less than an hour
an isotonic sports drink, milk, or a combination of high-carbohydrate food and water for hard sessions that last longer than an hour
You can make a homemade sports drink with 200ml of squash (not low calorie), 800ml water and a large pinch of salt.
What to eat after exercise Food and drink also plays a part in recovering effectively from training. If you train several times a day, refuelling with a source of carbohydrate and protein – such as a glass of milk and a banana – within 60 minutes of finishing your first session can help you recover faster.
If you're training less than this or have more time to recover, make sure you rehydrate with water and eat as soon as you can afterwards. This might be your next main meal.
Food supplements and exercise In general, a balanced diet will provide the nutrients and energy necessary for sport without the need for food supplements. Athletes wanting to use supplements should seek specialist advice from a registered sports performance nutritionist.