Hero herbs for fitness, strength and endurance
Exercise has many benefits for our wellbeing, both physical and emotional. But what actually happens when we exercise? When our muscles are put to use, they require more oxygen and glucose in order to work at a faster rate. It also means that the body has to dispose of higher levels of carbon dioxide.
To achieve this, both our heart rate and our rate and depth of breathing all increase. As we exercise on a more regular basis, we end up improving our overall metabolic rate, or the amount of energy our body expends per unit of time. An improved metabolic rate can help improve overall health and contribute towards maintaining a healthy weight, efficient digestion, healthy circulation and even reduce stress.
We all know the feeling of having physically overdone it slightly and waking up the following morning with tight and painful muscles. This happens when our body does not efficiently remove the lactic acid that builds up during exercise. If we improve our overall metabolic rate and fitness, such symptoms should improve.
But how do we improve our metabolic rate and get back some of that get-up and go?
There are many ways we can boost our metabolism and energy, and using foods and herbs are just two. Food can help give us the nutrition we need to fuel our muscles, and herbs can help boost our endurance and improve things like recovery time and overall energy.
Here’s a guide to which herbs are best depending on how and when you exercise:
Red ginseng is a powerhouse of energy. An excellent choice for that pre-workout boost. It builds core energy levels through boosting adrenal strength, increases oxygen availability to the muscles supporting recovery and repair and has a mild stimulant effect improving endurance.
Try Pukka's Ginseng Matcha Green tea.
Matcha and green tea
Both of these herbs boost our metabolic rate and are the perfect option for before, during and after exercise. Matcha and green tea also improve cognitive functioning, so can be helpful in keeping us motivated. If you are into more endurance sports such as long-distance walking, then keeping a hot flask of matcha or green tea will help keep you energised and mentally motivated.
Keeping yourself fuelled
It’s important not to forget the importance of food and hydration. Water is our body’s natural energy source and is essential for the survival and health of all our body’s cells. So remember to stay as hydrated as possible – even a herbal tea counts. Keep food as natural as possible, and stick to natural sources of energy and antioxidants to keep us energised. Pick out your green leafy veg and brightly coloured fruits and don’t forget that your body needs protein to build new muscle cells, so keep up your intake of organic protein sources such as pulses, beans or dairy.
Exercise for your dosha
In Ayurveda, the understanding of the three doshas vata, pitta and kapha, can help you understand what type of exercise is best and most suited to your constitution. If you don't know what your dosha is, take our dosha quiz to find out.
Vata types often have more slight body frames and benefit from strengthening and balancing exercises such as yoga or brisk walking. They need mental stimulation and creativity and often benefit from unusual or more ‘out-there’ types of exercise that challenge them mentally. Competitive sports can make them anxious and unsettled.
Kapha types really benefit from getting a sweat on. They are able to sustain longer periods of metabolic activity as they have excellent stamina. They might find exercises such as long-distance walking, swimming or trampolining fun. Kapha types generally don’t enjoy competitive sports and really like to be able to enjoy their exercise, so getting out into the great outdoors with other people can be really beneficial for them.
Pitta types are the natural athletes and are often found challenging themselves and pushing themselves to the limit. But they can get bored easily, and so benefit from creative exercise such as surfing. Pitta types will thrive in a competitive sports environment or a busy gym and really like to challenge themselves. They are likely to find more relaxing and endurance type sports boring.
As well as physical exercise, it's also important for all dosha types to consider mental exercise too. Meditative practice and breathing exercises help to calm the mind and improve oxygen supply to the brain. And it's very important to take time out of our busy lifestyles to focus on our emotional wellbeing and help keep motivation levels up during a workout.
Author: Dr Vivien Rolfe
Head of Herbal Research
Viv is a gut physiologist and has recently achieved a Foundation in Herbal Medicine. She leads Pukka’s research programme to explore how herbs can benefit our health and be used to widen healthcare choices. This includes research into herbs for Women’s health and as alternatives to antibiotics. She establishes global research partnerships and enthuses the next generation of scientists through Pukka’s Scholarship Scheme. She is a champion of diversity in science and open access to knowledge.
BSc, PhD, PFHEA
Years of experience:
30+ years in the wellbeing industry and academia
Degree in Physiology University of Sheffield, PhD University of Sheffield, Foundation in Herbalism Heartwood, MBA Entrepreneurship (on-going) Edinburgh Napier University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Membership of Nutrition Society, Physiological Society, Society for Chemical Industry, and other herbal and botanical groups.