Cordyceps and Athletic Performance

5 Reasons You Should Have Your Grandparents On Mushrooms
22 December 2018

We have been wanting to touch on this theme for quite some time. In practice I often use cordyceps mushroom extract as a vitality booster for fatigue, hormonal balance and to increase libido. Keep in mind those are all issues of deficiency and imbalance.

Within a different subset of patients, I use cordyceps with competition body sculptors especially during the weight cutting catabolic phase prior to competitions. The rationale at play is to maintain healthy adrenal/kidney/liver function while going through that high metabolic stress period.1-4 However, this is again treating issues of temporary deficiency.

What about individuals whose baseline functions are rock solid, people who are focused on always optimizing and evolving their peak performance? Do those same principles apply?

The answer is a clear yes.

What are some of the key factors in the physiology of athletic performance?

The quality of heart rate, respiratory function, oxygen delivery, cellular recovery. The higher these factors, in their dynamic balance, the greater the energy producing and detoxing capacity of both the cellular organism and the whole individual. Performance, physical youthfulness (anti-aging) and libido are in turn all positive functional outcomes.

Cordyceps, though a mushroom, is considered to be among the most powerful of tonic herbs within Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has made its way beyond the physician’s table into athletic performance culture because of its profound effects in physical performance, stress and fatigue.

Reduces fatigue, stress and delays exhaustion in physical performance

Koh et al. in a 2003 study demonstrated that rats administered Cordyceps outperformed the control group in a swim until exhaustion and exhaustion till recovery period. Physically, there was a marked increase in their energy level with reduced fatigue-ability. Metabolically, the Cordyceps rat group showed minimal weight loss changes in the adrenal, thymus and thyroid glands. Markers such as weight loss in those glands in addition to increases total cholesterol, LDH, ALP, AST, and ALT are important in measuring metabolic stress. The Cordyceps rats total cholesterol and ALP rates also recovered to that of the non-stress group showing further positive impact.5

Anti-aging as a parameter for physical performance

If life is a process of accumulative wear and tear, activities and nutrients that slow and reduce wear and tear would be considered anti-aging. In recovery time of an athlete, muscle repair and cellular regeneration are key in maintaining and increasing performance levels. Ji et al in a 2009 study observed that when cordyceps was administered to aged mice and castrated rats their water maze and step-down type avoidance tests had shortened escape latency, prolonged step-down latency and decreased the number of errors. Additionally the cordyceps increased levels of antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase and while lowering the levels of lipid peroxidation (free radicals).6 While performing, their physical performance not only increased but involved higher preservation and increase in antioxidants. These effects are relevant for protection of brain cells just as much as muscle cells or kidney cells. In other studies, cordyceps demonstrates blood pressure and cholesterol lowering effects increasing cardiovascular health and performance8,9 supporting both performance and longevity.

Libido and fertility as parameters for life force quality

In both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda alike, the strength and integrity of the life force is manifested through libido and fertility. It actually makes a lot of sense from a neurological perspective. When we are in a state of mental and physical equilibrium there is balanced physiological ebb and flow between sympathetic and parasympathetic phases.

The sympathetic state is one of fight or flight, in which testosterone and libido functions decline over time as a “survival mode” adaptation. The parasympathetic state is one of rest and digest, feeding and breeding. Physical training systems whether performed correctly or incorrectly often perpetuate a sustained Sympathetic state. Being in prolonged “survival mode” reduces levels of regenerative vitality. Nutrients that promote physiological repair and adrenal protection are essential in reducing that wear and tear effect. The adaptogen effects of cordyceps does exactly that.

A study performed by Chang et al 2008 demonstrated increased serum testosterone production, sperm count and sperm motility in rats that consumed cordyceps.7 Ji et al 2009 in the earlier study discussed also demonstrated that castrated rats administered cordyceps increased libido function by shortening the time for erection delay and mount / ejaculation latency.6 This is significant especially understanding the libido depleting effects that over-training often has on high performance athletes.

Using cordyceps for performance

Whether consuming cordyceps by itself in tea, in smoothies or coffee. Using 1 tablespoon per day for significant energy level differences is our recommended starting point. Taking portions of that full amount during the course of a day is a lot easier on the palate.

Disclaimer. The information represented in this article is meant to provide concepts from evidence based research. It is not intended to treat or diagnose any health condition. For appropriate treatment methods please contact your healthcare provider.

Copyright 2019 –

Works Cited:

  1. Wu R et al. Effects of fermented Cordycepssinensis on oxidative stress in doxorubicin treated rats. Pharmacogn Mag. 2015 Oct-Dec;11(44):724-31.
  2. Guan YJ, Hu Z, Hou M. [Effect of Cordyceps sinesis on T-lymphocyte subsets in chronic renal failure]. [Article in Chinese] Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi.1992 Jun;12(6):338-9, 323.
  3. Lin XX et al. [Effects of fermented Cordyceps powder on pulmonary function in sensitized guinea pigs and airway inflammation in sensitized rats]. [Article in Chinese] Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi.2001 Sep;26(9):622-5.
  4. Ko WS et al. Compound Cordyceps TCM-700C exhibits potent hepatoprotective capability in animal model. 2010 Jan;81(1):1-7.
  5. Koh JH et al. Antifatigue and antistress effect of the hot-water fraction from mycelia of Cordycepssinensis. Biol Pharm Bull.2003 May;26(5):691-4.
  6. Ji DB et al. Antiaging effect of Cordycepssinensis extract. Phytother Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):116-22.
  7. Chang Y et al. Effect of Cordycepsmilitaris supplementation on sperm production, sperm motility and hormones in Sprague-Dawley rats. Am J Chin Med.2008;36(5):849-59
  8. Wang XB et al. [Cordyceps mycelia extract decreases portal hypertension in rats with dimethylnitrosamine-induced liver cirrhosis: a study on its histological basis]. [Article in Chinese] Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao.2008 Nov;6(11):1136-44.
  9. Koh JH et al. Hypocholesterolemic effect of hot-water extract from mycelia of Cordycepssinensis. Biol Pharm Bull.2003 Jan;26(1):84-7.