Medicinal mushrooms have gained popularity in recent years for their potential health benefits, including those that can be advantageous for athletes.

Mushrooms are a great inclusion in your diet as they have many health and nutritional benefits. Mushrooms contain several B vitamins, including niacin, folate, biotin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. Mushrooms also provide antioxidants and essential minerals (selenium, copper and phosphorous), are easy to cook and are low in fat sodium, and kilojoules. When exposed to light they also contain vitamin D which is important for bone health, hormones and immunity.

Here we are exploring mycotherapy – the use of mushroom compounds for health. Medicinal mushrooms are included in many health and sports products.   Here we explore five medicinal mushrooms and their potential health benefits for athletes:

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)Energy and stamina

Cordyceps have been shown to enhance cellular oxygenation to improve lung capacity and endurance and reduce fatigue during exercise.  You will find this medicinal mushroom in several sports products as it contains cordycepin, a compound that increases energy through ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. For the same reason, it may also help relieve chronic fatigue.  

A 2022 study demonstrated supplementation with 2 grams of cordyceps per day improves the aerobic performance of amateur marathoners over 12 weeks. We are hopeful that further research will also show this benefit for well-trained and elite athletes.

Cordyceps is antiviral, immune-modulatory, antioxidant and effective in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure.

Tip: Add cordyceps to a customised herbal elixir for an all-around boost of energy.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)Stress buster  

Reishi is referred to as the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms” because of its ability to support multiple systems in the body. Reishi is soothing for the nervous system and helps the body adapt to stress. It lowers the stress hormone cortisol and helps to stabilise insulin. This makes Reishi useful for low mood, sleep issues, anxiety and recovery from physical and mental stress. With over 400 active compounds its benefits are extensive. Reishi strengthens the immune system by boosting white blood cells and the natural killer cells in your body. It is also useful for liver function, and libido in both sexes.

Tip: Add powdered reishi to your post-workout smoothie or snacks to help with recovery and sleep. We also encourage athletes and performers to focus on Reishi as part of their pre-race preparation to avoid illness impacting their performance.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus): Brain function

Lion’s Mane enhances cognitive function and memory, which can be beneficial for athletes’ mental sharpness and focus. Study’s show Lion’s Mane’s active compounds hericenone and erinacine, reduce memory loss and therefore of interest for use in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

This fluffy white mushroom even looks like the nerves it helps to regenerate in the gut-brain axis. By doing so it helps regulate the nervous system and heal the gut making it useful for leaky gut and IBS.

Tip: Include Lion’s main powder or liquid tonic for mental clarity and digestive issues.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): Injuries and inflammation

Chaga has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness. It’s rich in antioxidants, which can aid in overall health and recovery.

Tip: Changa powder tastes nutty and can be a great additive to coffee or broth.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes): Immunity

Shiitake mushrooms are known for their immune-boosting properties. For athletes, a robust immune system is crucial for staying healthy and avoiding training interruptions due to illness.  If you struggle with ongoing infections, explore suggestions on building a robust immune system.  Shiitake is also used to enhance lung function, gut health and as an antioxidant.

Tip: Alongside reishi, we encourage athletes to use a medicinal mushroom blend with high quality shitake as part of pre and post-event preparation and for ongoing colds and infections.  Shitake mushrooms can be found in most supermarkets and are great in stir-fried vegetable dishes and stews.

Summary

It’s important to note that while these medicinal mushrooms offer potential health benefits for athletes, individual responses may vary. Athletes should consult with their naturopath before incorporating these mushrooms into their diet or supplement regimen, especially if they have underlying health conditions, allergies or are taking medications. Additionally, athletes should use these mushrooms as part of a well-balanced diet and training program to maximise their benefits.

Sources: 

Chiou, W. F., Chang, P. C., Chou, C. J., & Chen, C. F. (2000). Protein constituent contributes to the hypotensive and vasorelaxant activities of Cordyceps sinensis. Life Sciences66(14), 1369-1376.

Phan, C. W., David, P., & Sabaratnam, V. (2017). Edible and medicinal mushrooms: emerging brain food for the mitigation of neurodegenerative diseases. Journal of medicinal food20(1), 1-10.

Savioli, F. P., Zogaib, P., Franco, E., de Salles, F. C. A., Giorelli, G. V., & Andreoli, C. V. (2022). Effects of cordyceps sinensis supplementation during 12 weeks in amateur marathoners: A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Herbal Medicine34, 100570.

Zhu XL, Chen AF, Lin ZB. Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides enhance the function of immunological effector cells in immunosuppressed mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 May 4;111(2):219-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2006.11.013. Epub 2006 Nov 21.  

Want to know more? Contact the Athlete Sanctuary and learn how we can help you to increase health, wellbeing and performance.

 

About the Author: Kate Smyth is a Sports naturopath, nutritionist and female-centric running coach. She is the founder of the Athlete Sanctuary- a holistic healthcare clinic for athletes of all levels and sporting codes. Kate has a thirst for knowledge with two bachelor’s and a master’s degree under her belt. She has been involved in sports for many decades and competed for Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games marathons with a personal best time of 2 hours 28 minutes. For more information visit www.athletesanctuary.com.au