Herbs for Fitness

I work out a lot.  Not because I want to be a professional athlete, but because there are so many things I love to do!  From tennis to kickboxing to pole dancing, I find myself pushing my body pretty hard.  I know there are a lot of us out there who like to push ourselves, so wanted to share some of the many helpful herbs, spices, and nutrients that I use to help my body adapt and heal.

My favorite herbs to use internally for muscle and tissue repair are Comfrey and Horsetail. I don’t use either herb on an everyday basis, just when I’ve strained a muscle and am looking for some extra healing support.

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)– also called ‘knitbone’, contains allantoin,which helps repair damaged tissue, bruises, sprains and fractures.  It also contains phenolic acids, which are anti-inflammatory.

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)– contains large amounts of silica, which supports regeneration of connective tissue. It is also an excellent clotting agent. It shouldn’t be taken long-term without a B vitamin supplement, as it breaks down B1 (thiamine).

For internal pain relief and inflammation, along with ginger and turmeric, White Willow and Devil’s Claw are fantastic! I especially appreciate these herbs because they are useful for arthritis…my nemesis.  Generally, I take both of these in capsule form, although I do also use white willow in teas and tinctures for headaches.

White Willow(Salix alba)– contains high levels of salicylic acid, which relieves pain and inflammation. It is especially beneficial for joint pain.  Be mindful that taken in large doses it can cause an upset stomach.

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)– an anti-inflammatory that reduces joint pain associated with arthritis. Its bitter properties also help tone the digestive system.

For topical pain relief and wound healing I use a number of herbs, essential oils, and spices depending on the need. My top two herbs of choice to infuse into EVOO are Arnica and Calendula.

Arnica (Arnica montana)– is used topically only, with the exception of homeopathic preparation. It’s useful in speeding up the healing of bruises, sprains, and muscular pain. Please note that it should not be used on broken skin or open wounds.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)– used externally, it reduces inflammation and is incredibly soothing to the skin. It is suitable for sensitive skin, great for everything from eczema to bruises, and I use it in everything from baby balm to antibiotic salve.

Adaptogens are wonderful tonic herbs that help our body adapt to new demands and stresses. It’s important to remember that our body longs for homeostasis.  Adaptogens help our bodies find that balance. Some of my favorites are:

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)– is a restorative herb that is useful in countering the exhaustion that accompanies chronic stress or illness.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)– is used to combat fatigue and increase attention span. Newer research suggests it also helps ease depression.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) – stimulates the nervous system, acts as an overall tonic, helps improve concentration and lessens irritability.

Tulsi/Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum)– improves vitality, helps stabilize blood sugar, and reduces stress. It also smells divine.

Lest we neglect nutrition…

Vitamin E– is a powerful antioxidant that aids in reducing inflammation and soreness related to intense exercise = faster recovery!

Phytonutrients– are anti-inflammatory and prevent disease and premature aging. They are found in richly pigmented fruits and vegetables such as:

  • beets, cherries, red cabbage, mangoes, bell peppers, broccoli, asparagus, leafy greens, eggplant, pineapple, strawberries, avocado, Brussels sprouts

Antioxidants– inhibit free radicals from damaging cells in the body. They include:

  • Beta-carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Selenium, Vitamins A, C, & E
  • Burdock, ginkgo, green tea, milk thistle, turmeric, cloves, oregano, cayenne
  • Garlic, all berries, dark chocolate, pecans & brazil nuts, artichokes, red beans, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, pomegranates, grapes, citrus fruit
Omega 3s– help reduce inflammation, strengthen immune function, and lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Found in:
  • Coldwater fish (salmon is one of the best) and freshwater white fish. Opt for wild caught when possible
  • dark-green leafy vegetables, flaxseed oil, nuts, seeds, hemp hearts

Spice! Add spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cayenne, fennel, cumin, and mustard seed to your food as much as possible. Spices are incredibly healing and make food so much more interesting 🙂

So go…push yourself to do your best!  Then reward your body with the nutrients it needs and the rest & recovery it desires so that your best can keep getting better!