The Guide to Sports Nutrition and Supplements for Runners: Herbal Supplements

The number of nutritional supplements and different types of sports nutrition has long exceeded all reasonable limits. In this series of articles, we’ll try to help newbies navigate the world of sports nutrition and supplements and show what, how, and when it works (spoiler: not everything works).

The Barbados cherry, has only red berries in common with ordinary cherries. Popular for its high vitamin C content.

That is, when buying acerola dietary supplements, you just get very expensive vitamin C tablets with an unknown content of the vitamin itself.

The dosage on dietary supplements is indicated by the mass of the acerola itself, and not by the vitamin contained in it, since it is impossible to standardize the content of the substance in the plant. Therefore, when using this supplement, three scenarios are possible:

  1. You will get the positive effects of vitamin C: reduction of markers of damage when taken before exercise, as discussed in our vitamins article.
  2. Do not get buffs.
  3. An overdose of the vitamin and you end up with a rash, poor blood clotting and other unpleasant symptoms.


It likely increases the production of erythropoietin, a substance that stimulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. The extra red blood cells can therefore carry more oxygen to your muscles, heart and other places where it’s needed, helping you run faster and longer. Alas, it turns out not.

Echinacea does not increase hemoglobin or help increase speed.

The only (fairly old) study that showed an increase in VO2max showed a 1.47% increase. And subsequent experiments did not confirm this increase. Plus, here’s a brand new article that proves that echinacea does not affect erythropoietin production in any way, i.e. the whole supposed way to improve performance is wrong.

Also note that it is not recommended to take echinacea preparations for longer than 10 days.

Guide to sports nutrition and supplements for runners: plant-based formulas


Ginseng and its varieties (eg Eleutherococcus, a Siberian subspecies of ginseng) have been used for a long time and are well studied. They have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune and brain-boosting effects, and – what we’re particularly interested in – increase endurance.

Eleutherococcus contains a special active substance that improves performance (the study was conducted on untrained people).

Long-term use of ginseng improves heart and lung function and helps lower blood lactate levels (in addition to improving athletic performance). In well-trained people, the effects of ginseng are less pronounced.

On the other hand, ginseng has a lot of pretty serious side effects.

It can cause blood pressure fluctuations, headaches, over-excitement, insomnia, tachycardia and various digestive disorders. In women, additional unpleasant effects from the reproductive system are possible. It is forbidden to combine it with antidepressants, anticoagulants and hormones, as well as to take patients with breast cancer.

Guide to sports nutrition and supplements for runners: plant-based formulas


Improves results in sprints and long runs, speeds up reaction and cognitive abilities, including sense of humor.

It is excluded from the list of drugs prohibited by the anti-doping commission, but its use is controlled due to long-term side effects (increased pressure, anxiety, sleep disturbances, dehydration, irritation of the gastric mucosa).

In addition to pure caffeine, there are several natural sources of caffeine.

Arabica coffee: similar in action to pure caffeine.

Guarana: contains 2-3 times more caffeine than arabica, plus several other active compounds (theophylline, theobromine, tannins – also found in tea). Similar in action to coffee, the side effects are the same.

Green tea contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine, has antioxidant properties and increases energy production by brown adipose tissue. This fabric is smaller and splits more easily than plain white. A seagull warms up on cold days not only because it is hot.

Green tea extract increases sprint power, antioxidant protection and endurance. However, studies on the long-term use of green tea extract and the effects of the active substances (except the three main ones) have not been conducted. High doses of tea extract have been shown to damage liver and pancreas cells.

Cocoa and chocolate contain theobromine and theophylline with minimal caffeine content. The antioxidant activity of these compounds has been proven, but studies on the effects on athletes are inconsistent.

Comrade – Argentinian Holly Leaves – contains about 2% caffeine (like arabica), but supposedly more beneficial and safer than regular coffee. Mate contributes to the reduction of fat mass and increases the release of energy. But, like coffee, it can increase heart rate and raise blood pressure.

Guide to sports nutrition and supplements for runners: plant-based formulas


Ginger and curcumin have anti-inflammatory properties. Effects on strength, metabolism and oxygen consumption have not been proven.

Safe when taken in recommended doses. It is undesirable to take it only during pregnancy, lactation and people with bleeding disorders.

Guide to sports nutrition and supplements for runners: plant-based formulas

Tribulus Terrestris

The drug from the extract of Tribulus terrestris is called Tribulus and contains steroids and phytosterol. It became popular after the 1996 Summer Olympics, where Bulgarian athletes noted the role of this extract in their victory.

According to two studies (Russian and Chinese), the drug promotes testosterone production and reduces inflammation in the muscles. However, most researchers have found no effect from this drug.

Tribulus is still actively accepted by representatives of motor sports, according to the authors of the review – due to effective marketing.

Long-term use can lead to a positive doping test (probably contains something), fatigue, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure, and tachycardia. Taking the drug is not recommended, and if you decide to take it, be very attentive to your condition.

Guide to sports nutrition and supplements for runners: plant-based formulas

Rhodiola rosea

Several studies have shown that rhodiola root extract at 200mg/day can improve fatigue time by 3% and reduce lactate levels and damage markers. Other studies do not confirm these data.

The extract’s mechanism of action is currently unknown, so its use is not recommended by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and Rhodiola is included in the Poisonous Plant Registry.

Guide to sports nutrition and supplements for runners: plant-based formulas


A parasitic fungus widely used in Asia, but research on its effectiveness is inconsistent. On the one hand, there is an improvement in performance in endurance sports, on the other hand, it is not always observed and is not accompanied by an increase in testosterone levels. At the same time, in combination with Rhodiola, the results are promising.

Cordyceps remains insufficiently studied, the limits of its safe dosages have not been clarified. When used in large doses, it leads to digestive disorders.

Guide to sports nutrition and supplements for runners: plant-based formulas

ginkgo biloba

Supposedly improves blood flow in tissues, especially in the brain, improving the condition of Alzheimer’s disease, migraines and other headaches, memory impairment. There are studies both confirming the improvement in endurance when taking ginkgo and refuting it. It is recommended to take only in the form of tablets.