Ginseng is the root of the plant Panax ginseng, which is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine as a natural remedy for a variety of health issues. It is also referred to as the “root of life” due to its numerous health benefits.
There are two main types of ginseng – American ginseng(Panax quinquefolius) and Chinese or Korean ginseng(Panax ginseng). Both contain active compounds called ginsenosides, which are responsible for many of its health benefits, including reducing inflammation and stress, boosting immunity, and improving cognition.
As a proven traditional adaptogen, ginseng has found potential applications in the world of sports and fitness in recent years. Athletes and fitness enthusiasts are always looking for ways to improve their performance and enhance their workouts. Ginseng offers a natural alternative to artificial supplements and stimulants.
Studies have been conducted to evaluate the effects of ginseng on athletic performance, and the results suggest that ginseng may help:
- Improve exercise performance
- reduce muscle damage and muscle and recovery
- reduce post-workout fatigue
Ginseng may help improve exercise performance
Ginseng is a known antioxidant agent, and it can improves the body’s ability to use oxygen to help athletes perform at a higher level for longer periods of time, and reduce inflammation and protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
One study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Physiology found that acute supplementation of 200mg of Panax ginseng one hour before the exercise led to improved endurance performance among healthy adult males of Kolkata, India, indicated by the higher endurance time, as well as lower lactic acid, free fatty acid and lipid peroxidase in the Panax ginseng treatment group.
Another study conducted on young adults found that a single 1,350-mg dose of Panax notoginseng (Chinese ginseng) could enhance aerobic capacity, endurance, and mean blood pressure during endurance cycle exercise.
However, a meta-analysis conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of ginseng supplements in reducing fatigue and enhancing physical performance found that ginseng supplementation was not associated with enhancing physical performance.
These studies were conducted in small simple size and further research with larger sample sizes is needed to confirm the effectiveness of ginseng supplements in improving physical performance.
Ginseng is very likely to help reduce post-workout fatigue
Ginseng is a popular traditional medical remedy that has been used to reduce fatigue for centuries in many Asian countries, so an area where ginseng may have a particularly significant impact is in reducing fatigue after exercise.
A Korean research team investigated the impact of acute red ginseng intake as a nutritional ergogenic aid for sports in 2016. The study involved 11 male volunteers who were divided into a placebo group and a red ginseng group. The results showed no significant difference in peak power and mean power between the two groups. However, there was a significant difference in lactate and ammonia levels between the two groups during recovery from exercise. The study suggests that acute red ginseng intake was effective in lowering blood fatigue markers in the recovery phase despite a marginal impact on muscle damage.
As mentioned above, a meta-analysis found that ginseng can help reduce fatigue, although there isn’t enough evidence to show that it improves physical performance.
Ginseng may help reduce muscle damage
Ginsenosides and polysaccharides are the two main compounds found in ginseng that are believed to be responsible for its muscle damage-protective effects. These compounds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which help reduce muscle damage caused by exercise.
A 2021 study, published in the American journal of Chinese medicine, aimed to see if taking Panax ginseng extract would affect muscle damage and inflammation after exercise. Eighteen male college students were divided into two groups; one took the ginseng extract and the other took a placebo. Both groups did a high-intensity uphill treadmill exercise test. The ginseng group took the extract for seven days before and four days after the exercise, and the placebo group took water with a different herb. Blood tests were done at several intervals, including before and after exercise, to measure muscle damage and inflammation. The ginseng group showed less muscle damage and inflammation than the placebo group and also had better insulin sensitivity. Therefore, it’s suggested that ginseng extract could be beneficial for reducing exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity.
However, ginseng was not found to help with exercise-induced muscle damage in some studies. Brazilian researchers investigated the impact of Panax ginseng on muscle force, excitation during exercise, and subsequent muscle damage and soreness. They conducted a crossover trial, in which ten male athletes in the track and field domain were randomly given either panax ginseng or a placebo for eight days. Unfortunately, although the study discovered that Panax ginseng consumption reduced perceived exertion, increased muscle excitement, and helped recover muscle force, it did not alleviate muscle damage or soreness.
Ginsenoside content matters
Although studies indicated the benefits of ginseng as a workout supplement, there is still literature found that ginseng showed no impact on sport performance and recovery.
Among variants that affect the study result, the small sample size of clinical trials is one, and the ginsenoside content of ginseng used in the trials is another.
Korean researchers investigated how high and low doses of ginseng may affect perception and physical performance after resistance exercise. Their study was designed to explore the potential benefits of a Korean Ginseng extract, GINST15 that contains highly bioavailable rare ginsenosides on perception and exercise performance.
The study involved 19 participants, ten women, and nine men. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: high (960 mg/day), low (160 mg/day), or placebo (0 mg/day) for 14 days. The results showed that high-dose ginseng significantly reduced perceived exertion during exercise and reduced muscle soreness 24 hours post-exercise compared to placebo and low-dose ginseng.
The findings of the study indicate that ginseng products containing high rare ginsenoside content might lead to enhanced effect and change the study results.
In conclusion, ginseng may be an effective workout supplement for athletes looking to protect their body during and after exercise. You should always consult with your doctor before taking any supplements, including ginseng, especially if you have an existing medical condition or are taking medications that may interact negatively with it.
Bhattacharjee, I., & Bandyopadhyay, A. (2020). Effects of Acute Supplementation of Panax ginseng on Endurance Performance in Healthy Adult Males of Kolkata, India. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Physiology, 7(2), 63-68. https://doi.org/10.5530/ijcep.2020.7.2.16
Liang, M. T., Podolka, T. D., & Chuang, W. J. (2005). Panax notoginseng supplementation enhances physical performance during endurance exercise. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 19(1), 108–114. https://doi.org/10.1519/00124278-200502000-00019
Kim, S., Kim, J., Lee, Y., Seo, M. K., & Sung, D. J. (2016). Anti-Fatigue Effects of Acute Red Ginseng Intake in Recovery from Repetitive Anaerobic Exercise. Iranian journal of public health, 45(3), 387–389.
Bach, H. V., Kim, J., Myung, S. K., & Cho, Y. A. (2016). Efficacy of Ginseng Supplements on Fatigue and Physical Performance: a Meta-analysis. Journal of Korean medical science, 31(12), 1879–1886. https://doi.org/10.3346/jkms.2016.31.12.1879
Cristina-Souza, G., Santos-Mariano, A. C., Lima-Silva, A. E., Costa, P. L., Domingos, P. R., Silva, S. F., Abreu, W. C., De-Oliveira, F. R., & Osiecki, R. (2022). Panax ginseng Supplementation Increases Muscle Recruitment, Attenuates Perceived Effort, and Accelerates Muscle Force Recovery After an Eccentric-Based Exercise in Athletes. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 36(4), 991–997. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003555
Jung, H. L., Kwak, H. E., Kim, S. S., Kim, Y. C., Lee, C. D., Byurn, H. K., & Kang, H. Y. (2011). Effects of Panax ginseng supplementation on muscle damage and inflammation after uphill treadmill running in humans. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 39(3), 441–450. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0192415X11008944
Lin, C. H., Lin, Y. A., Chen, S. L., Hsu, M. C., & Hsu, C. C. (2021). American Ginseng Attenuates Eccentric Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage via the Modulation of Lipid Peroxidation and Inflammatory Adaptation in Males. Nutrients, 14(1), 78. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14010078
Caldwell, L. K., DuPont, W. H., Beeler, M. K., Post, E. M., Barnhart, E. C., Hardesty, V. H., Anders, J. P., Borden, E. C., Volek, J. S., & Kraemer, W. J. (2018). The Effects of a Korean Ginseng, GINST15, on Perceptual Effort, Psychomotor Performance, and Physical Performance in Men and Women. Journal of sports science & medicine, 17(1), 92–100.