You know by now that mushrooms are incredible plants, but you may be less familiar with how one specific species can increase your fitness, argues Letty Cole.
Over the past couple of years, mushrooms have been having an extended moment. The regular white cup and chestnut varieties are rich in vitamin D and fibre, making them excellent foods to eat regularly. Outside the kitchen, however, we’ve seen promising research on new depression treatments that centre around certain mushrooms, and the beauty industry has turned to certain fungi as a potent skincare ingredient.
We now know that the fungi kingdom –with its 1.5 million species –has a wealth of amazing properties to offer us. The one area of life that ’shrooms haven’t touched, however, has been fitness. Until now.
Cordyceps mushrooms – the fitness supplement you’re missing
What are cordyceps?
Cordyceps is a group of fungi species mainly found in Asia. They most commonly look like small orange baseball bats, hence the name cordyceps, which comes from the Greek for ‘club’ and ‘head’.
In traditional Chinese medicine, cordyceps have long been used for their energy-boosting properties. It’s only now that scientific understanding is catching up: studies have shown that cordyceps have anti-ageing properties, can be used to treat immunological disease, and even have the ability to inhibit cancer growth.
“We are beginning to see research that corroborates what they have known in China for centuries,” says Clarissa Berry, nutritionist at Dirtea. “Cordyceps has some truly amazing effects on our biology.”
How can cordyceps make us fitter?
Aside from some brilliant nutritional properties (they’ve been shown to decrease ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, as well as decreasing inflammation) cordyceps have been shown to offer a host of fitness-boosting effects, from having the energy to work out in the first place to recovering more efficiently.
This 2020 study, published in the journal Mycobiology, found that cordyceps boost the production of ATP, a molecule that carries energy around the body. “With more ATP available, you naturally have more energy to complete your daily tasks or hit the gym”, explains Berry.
Zain Peer, founder of mushroom company London Nootropics, tells Stylist: “By giving us natural sustained energy to train for longer, in the long term, we can expect to have better fitness and increased aerobic capacity. The Chinese Olympic team broke three world records at the 1993 National Games in China while taking cordyceps.”
An increase in ATP also helps the body use oxygen more efficiently, which is great news for non-athletes trying to get fit. “VO2 max is the maximum rate that the body can use oxygen during exercise, and is a measurement of a person’s aerobic fitness level,” explains Berry. “Studies with cordyceps have shown a significant increase in VO2 max and in exercise performance, especially in less highly trained athletes.”
A 2009 study also found that cordyceps can prevent the build-up of lactic acid in muscles during exercise, helping stave off that familiar muscle-burn.
The proven anti-inflammatory properties of cordyceps make it a brilliant aid to recovery, too. “In fitness, a little inflammation is important to stimulate muscle repair and adaptations,” says Berry. But she explains that too much inflammation causes DOMS or muscle soreness after exercise. “Taking cordyceps can help reduce this inflammation to decrease recovery time and muscle soreness after your workout.”
How to take cordyceps mushrooms
There are many ways to take cordyceps, depending on what works for you. Traditionally, dried whole mushrooms are boiled as tea, but there are now many more accessible (and affordable) ways to take it, such as this cordyceps powder from Dirtea, which can be brewed into an umami broth, or this cordyceps coffee blend from London Nootropics.
Other medicinal mushrooms known to help with fitness
It’s not just cordyceps that can help your fitness journey. Other medicinal mushrooms can be used to enhance your performance and aid recovery too. According to studies, chaga and reishi mushrooms are both anti-inflammatory and can support your immune system. Keep an eye out for mushroom blends, which combine these mushrooms to allow you to access the full range of micronutrients that these mushrooms offer.
‘As awareness has grown of the benefits of medicinal mushrooms such as cordyceps, and with new products and studies emerging, we’ve noticed a growing interest,’ says Peer.
Are mushrooms the future for fitness? It looks like they could be.
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