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Can Cordyceps Mushrooms Help with Exercise Recovery?

If better fitness is your goal, exercise recovery is essential. Hitting the gym or crushing it with your favorite workout app puts a lot of strain on your body:[1]
  • Your heart and lungs work faster and harder to move blood and oxygen to your muscles
  • Your joints take an extra load, especially during strength training and high-impact exercise
  • Your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol to break down energy reserves for fuel
That’s why you feel wiped out after a serious sweat session—and why you need recovery time before your next workout. man in black shirt holding a dumbbell and looking tired

How much exercise recovery do you need?

Jumping back into exercise without recovering can increase injury risk and reduce training effectiveness. Why? The strain of exercise causes small tears in your muscles, which can progress to actual damage if you don’t take adequate time to heal. Recovery also gives your body an opportunity to rest and adapt. Adaptation increases your capacity to overcome the physical stresses of exercise—in other words, it’s the key to getting stronger and fitter over time. So how much rest is “enough”? The American Council on Exercise recommends taking a rest day once every seven to 10 days if you work out regularly.[2] According to research, your body needs about 24 hours to replenish the carbohydrate stores that act as primary fuel during workouts. And it takes about 12 hours for levels of the proteins that transport those carbohydrates into muscle cells to return to normal.[3] You can choose whatever combination of recovery methods you like on your rest day. Stretching, foam rolling, massage, compression, and cryotherapy are helpful for muscle pain relief.[4] Active recovery, like walking or light cycling, is also beneficial: the gentle movement increases circulation and aids in removing waste products without overtaxing your muscles.[5] Be sure to drink plenty of water, eat nutrient-rich foods, and get adequate sleep to support your recovery. Some supplements may provide further benefits—including cordyceps, a unique functional mushroom with potential perks for performance.

Cordyceps for Exercise Recovery: Potential Benefits

Although cordyceps is usually associated with energy, research suggests that compounds in this funky-looking functional fungus could work in your body to promote exercise adaptation and maximize the benefits of your rest days.

1) May reduce fatigue during exercise*

You know that moment during your workout when you suddenly realize you can’t push anymore The polysaccharides, cordycepin, and cordycepic acid found in cordyceps may interact with your body’s energy production process to delay exercise fatigue by:
  • Increasing the amount of time you can sustain high-intensity activity[6]*
  • Increasing glycogen levels in your muscles and liver to provide more fuel for your workouts[7]*
  • Balancing energy production and consumption during exercise[8]*
  • Increasing natural antioxidants to protect against exercise-induced stress*
  • Minimizing the buildup of lactic acid and other byproducts of muscle damage[9]*
Note that most of the studies on cordyceps and energy were performed on mice or rats. More studies are needed to confirm whether the exercise benefits extend to humans or if the anti-fatigue effects can reduce recovery time.

2) May regulate post-exercise inflammation*

If you find yourself walking like a penguin after a tough leg day, you know what it’s like to have delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS sets in as your body activates its natural inflammatory processes to heal your muscles. As unpleasant as it feels, DOMS is actually a good thing. Unlike the chronic inflammation associated with disease, this inflammation helps you body adapt to harder exercise. Muscle get stronger as they heal, enabling you to increase the intensity of your workouts over time. Interfering with this process could reduce training effectiveness and inhibit progress. However, severe DOMS can make daily activities uncomfortable or make it difficult to stick to a daily workout regimen. When you need to recover faster—or just want to walk without waddling—taking a cordyceps supplement could help. Cordycepin from cordyceps mushrooms may influence inflammatory pathways to balance the production of proteins called cytokines.[10,11]* Cordyceps extract may also suppress or prevent the activation of nuclear factor kappa-B (NF-KB), a key compound in the inflammatory response.* These benefits may be especially helpful if you follow a structured training program that requires regular high-intensity training or long endurance sessions. Faster recovery supports continued training to keep you on track toward your goals.[12] man in blue jean jacket asleep on the couch with a book in his hand

3) May improve sleep for better exercise recovery*

Sleep is one of the most important components of exercise recovery. While you sleep, your body releases growth hormone and IGF-1 to promote muscle building and repair.[13] Restful sleep is also associated with lower levels of inflammation.[14] Some evidence suggests that cordyceps may aid sleep regulation by increasing serotonin and melatonin levels, balancing circadian rhythm, and improving deep sleep. One interesting rodent study shed light on why this medicinal mushroom could show promise for better slumber. In the study, researchers gave rats cordycepin and recorded their sleeping patterns. Compared to controls, the rats that got the mushroom supplement experienced fewer sleep-wake cycles and more non-REM sleep—meaning they slept deeply for longer periods.[15] This may be because cordycepin acts similarly to adenosine, a compound involved in sleep regulation. By acting on adenosine receptors, cordycepin may prevent the release of neurotransmitters associated with wakefulness to promote more restorative sleep.

4) May increase exercise tolerance*

Long-term supplementation with cordyceps could help you power through long workouts. In a small study, participants who took a mushroom supplement containing cordyceps for three weeks or more saw improvement in two markers of endurance:[16]
  • VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen their bodies could use during exercise
  • Time to exhaustion, the length of time they could exercise before hitting the point of failure
A rodent study that tested swimming endurance in rats showed similar results. Metabolism regulators increased in the muscles of rats given a cordyceps supplement,[17] allowing them to produce more energy and swim for longer without getting tired. One of these regulators, PGC-1α, is associated with muscle adaptation, which suggests that cordyceps could improve workout performance and tolerance over time.* However, other research shows that people who perform regular endurance training may not get the same benefits for athletic performance.[18]

How to use cordyceps for exercise recovery

Rather than directly helping with recovery, most of the cordyceps mushroom benefits for exercise have more to do with adapting to hard workouts. When paired with a good exercise recovery plan, a cordyceps supplement could help you increase your training load to get better results from your fitness regimen. The easiest way to try this medicinal mushroom as a workout supplement is to add cordyceps powder to a pre- or post-workout smoothie. If you already take other supplements, capsules can be more convenient. Results from some studies suggest you may have to take several grams of cordyceps per day to see results. Cordyceps doses as high as 6 grams per day appear to be safe for up to one year,[19] but it’s best to start with a low dose to see how it affects your performance. Begin with 1 gram per day and work your way up as needed. Just remember to make recovery a regular part of your schedule! Rest is key to enjoying the full potential benefits of cordyceps for exercise performance, endurance, and adaptation. tegan holing out a bottle of cordyceps mushroom capsules
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