Cordyceps: Clearing up the Confusion on Performance Benefits

Is it conceivable that a single mushroom can act as a powerful mood enhancer, promote vibrant health, and significantly enhance athletic performance? Companies that have been promoting cordyceps, an adaptogenic mushroom used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, have made these assertions for centuries. The scientific evidence for such claims has, up until recently, remained quite elusive and unclear.

Have we learned any verifiable, scientific facts about cordyceps?

We're scientists and supplement manufacturers jointly misguided all this time?

With recent, peer-reviewed studies coming out, the answer is yes —we have finally cleared up the confusion and have finally applied this research toward the most optimized cordyceps extract.

 This is cordyceps sinensis. How is it that some research looks promising, but others fall flat? It turns out we sometimes end up with a case of mistaken identity, and ultimately choose to avoid sinensis altogether!

Cordyceps is a genus of medical mushrooms (specifically, sac fungi) whose various extracts can “sometimes” increase lactate threshold and aerobic exercise capacity, depending on what study you look at.

  • Cordyceps sinensis has bee the most-marketed form in the 2000’s. Unfortunately, cordyceps sinensis is commonly misidentified and DNA testing shows many supplements aren’t even in the cordyceps family!
  • Cordyceps militaris, however, has been revealed validated and reliable, as recent studies have shown improved VO2 max, peak power, and time to exhaustion.
  • The best cordyceps sports enhancement supplement is currently One Elevated Vital Ultimate Pre-Workout, which has been developed for health-conscious athletes and contains 1g of PeakO₂. We recommend 1 – 2 scoops per day (divided between pre-workout and during workout).
  • No known side effects of cordyceps militaris have been reported with healthy users.

 

What are Adaptogens?

The term, “adaptogen” has been around for decades, but the usage often is misunderstood.

Adaptogens are natural substances, which have been shown to help the body adapt to stress and assist in normalizing bodily processes. They are considered as biological equalizers making them highly beneficial to your health and wellness regimen.

Several herbs are known to be adaptogens: Ginseng, Ashwagandha, Licorice Root, Rhodiola, and our favorite, Cordyceps Militaris.

A Background on Cordyceps

These powerful adaptogens made international headlines after Chinese runners decimated two word records in 1993. According to their coach, the secret to their remarkable athletic performance was a natural fungus, namely cordyceps militaris. They are found in the Himalayas around Tibet and Nepal as well as regions closer to India and China where the elevations are conducive for their growth. In Chinese and Ayurvedic Medicine, it has traditionally been used to treat reproductive ailments, increase energy, and decrease the effects of aging. Additionally, cordyceps have also traditionally been used to:

  • Moderate stress, [1]
  • Increase endurance, [1,2]
  • Support anabolism and muscle protein synthesis, [3]
  • Advance glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, [4,5]
  • Enhance virility, [6,7]
  • Improve general health, [5,8,9]

A number of the above uses have only data from animal subjects (ie. mice and rat studies) to support these claims, however, the most recent research has been done on endurance and is human-based, which has driven the purpose to spread the word on these often misunderstood products of nature.

The most recent investigations into these elusive adaptogens have shed light into its ergogenic or performance enhancement potential.

 

Increase Endurance and Reduce Fatigue

In a double-blind human trial, cordyceps have been shown to significantly increase oxygen intake during exercise. Furthermore, it has also demonstrated the ability to decrease basal glucose and lactic acid levels. Another study showed that mice given cordyceps improved their swimming endurance from 75 to 90 minutes. [1]

 

Moderate Stress Levels

Within the same study referred to above, the scientists also discovered a change in the weight of the subject’s adrenal gland, spleen, thymus, and thyroid, indicating that cordyceps reduce stress hormone production.

This is vitally important for athletes because less stress means less cortisol, thus decreased catabolism or muscle breakdown, amongst several other benefits. [20]

That’s Not Cordyceps You’ve been Taking!

It turns out not all “cordyceps” is actually cordyceps! The “cordyceps sinensis” that has been out on the market and researchers had been testing may not have actually been cordyceps sinensis. Up until recently, identifying mushrooms species was done by visual observation. Now researchers are using a more scientific approach by using DNA sequencing. [29]

Is that Paecilomyces (PH) or Cordyceps?

Most of the research being done on “cordyceps” had been on Paecilomyces Hepiali (PH)!

This fungus belongs to a separate genus named Paecilomyces. It is not related to cordyceps other than by appearance! [30.31] Knowing now that vast amounts of this genus of fungi have been distributed, it is quite possible most are actually P. Hepiali, while some amount could be indeed cordyceps sinensis. For 23 years, we have all been collectively deceived, all to be enlightened by modern scientific technology!

So what does this mean?

The answer to our confusion problems? Skip sinensis altogether… and go with these guys, cordyceps militaris!

With raw materials manufacturers previously relying on visual indicators, we can’t say for sure which “cordyceps supplements” were authentic. While Paecilomyces Hepiali has some benefits (namely anti-tumor), there isn’t any evidence that they support athletic performance or neuroprotecion, the aim for many cordyceps consumers. If these supplements had no effect for you, the reason could be this: misidentified raw materials. It has become clear that we should not have faith in any product labeled “cordyceps sinensis” for your athletic enhancing goals.

Cordyeps Militaris: The genuine mushroom supplement for athletic enhancement

Cordyceps Militaris has recently left its mark, and without the confusion of mistaken identity. By combining cordyceps militaris with other adaptogens, aerobic performance and delayed fatigue by improved oxygen kinetics are evident. A combined mushroom blend has recently entered the market known as PeakO2™ by Compound Solutions. We believe this adaptogen blend is the “Next Big Thing” that sports nutrition consumers have really been searching for all this time

As shown in the study above, there was a significant increase in time to exhaustion. Subjects in this research study were asked to pedal at full speed for as longs as they could (until they had fallen below a set resistance point). At that point, they took away the resistance, letting the subjects get their speed back up, until a set time when they would reintroduce the resistance.

When the study says “significant”, it’s not mincing words being that subjects added over a minute to their time before resistance was taken away. This has some serious implications. We don’t know of any other non-hormonal supplements that have demonstrated such profound and verifiable results in just seven days. Furthermore, this isn’t just some run of the mill study done at a no-name university. This is UNC conducting a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study.

Cordyceps Militaris: More effective than Cordyceps Sinensis

Multiple research studies have recounted that CM products yield higher levels of active ingredients as compared to CS products. One recent comparative study of the protective effects against oxidative damage reported that CM extracts were shown to contain greater antioxidant efficiency, greater amounts of bioactive ingredients cordycepin and adenosine, greater polyphenolic contents, and greater flavonoid contents than CS extracts. [33]

Testing also revealed higher concentrations of exopolysaccharides and cordcepin in CM as compared to CS. [11] Cordyceps Militaris was shown to have over twice the max cordycpein potency.

Which Cordyceps product is best?

Now that it is clear that Cordyceps Militaris is superior in many ways and does not have the misidentification problem associated with Cordyceps sinesis, we’re going with PeakO2™ and for a pre-workout containing PeakO2™ we suggest Vital Ultimate Pre-Wokout as they are both trusted blends that led by Cordyceps militaris. Each of the other adaptogens play a critical role in increased performance and recovery as well.

Vital Pre-Workout is a results driven and health conscious pre-workout supplement. Containing zero sugar, artificial colors, or excipients, Vital Ultimate is an excellent choice for the, cross-fitter, bodybuilder, athlete, or weekend warrior.

Do Cordyceps or PeakO2™ have any side effects?

Upon investigation into whether cordyceps show any sign of side effects, more benefits are to be found. Frequently cordyceps are used as a conjunctive therapy with various medical treatments to assist in averting side effects of those treatments.

The various benefits are will be discussed in further articles, however it is safe to say we haven’t found any negative side effects.

Do Cordyceps Help with Gains?

Research has demonstrated that you will have increased power, therefor lifting more, and have more endurance which can lead to more reps. Cordyceps also increase VO2 uptake allowing for quicker recovery.

This translates into the ability to sustain harder workouts for a longer duration. Does this equate to gains? If you are not taking advantage of these enhancements by increasing the amount weight/volume, but instead experiencing an easier workout, then you will not see much in the way of muscular gains.

Cordyceps do not provide “free gains” like someone new to bodybuilding might obtain from using creatine for the first time. Instead, there are performance gains, which only lead to muscular gains when you feed yourself and recover appropriately.

In Conclusion, Who Should Consider Cordyceps?

Cordyceps have a powerful ability to improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen. Everybody can benefit from that sports nutrition supplements, but remember they only complement and can not offer a quick fix.

Our belief is that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg right now and we will begin to see further applications in medical fields and supplement products.

Is cordyceps militaris a necessary, low cost ingredient such as protein, or creatine? No, but if you are an endurance athlete or intending to stretch out your volumes to higher levels of training, then cordyceps and a product like Vital Ultimate Pre-Workout would be a smart choice.

 

References

 

  1. Jong-Ho KOH, et al; “Antifatigue and Antistress Effect of the Hot-Water Fraction from Mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis”; Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin; 26(5) 691 – 694; 2003; https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bpb/26/5/26_5_691/_pdf
  2. Hirsch, K. R., Mock, M. G., Roelofs, E. J., Trexler, E. T., & Smith-Ryan, A. E.; “Chronic supplementation of a mushroom blend on oxygen kinetics, peak power, and time to exhaustion”; Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(Suppl 1), P45; 2015; Full source available at https://blog.priceplow.com/wp-content/uploads/hirsch-cordyceps_militaris_improves_tolerance_to_high_intensity_exercise_after_acute_and_chronic_supplementation.pdf; abstract at http://www.jissn.com/content/12/S1/P45
  3. Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S; “Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition.”; CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92758/
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  11. Kim, HO; “A comparative study on the production of exopolysaccharides between two entomopathogenic fungi Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis in submerged mycelial cultures”; Journal of Applied Microbiology; 2005; July 25; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2005.02682.x/full
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  14. Zhu, J; “The scientific rediscovery of an ancient Chinese herbal medicine: Cordyceps sinensis: part I”; Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; 1998 Fall; 4(3):289-303; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9764768
  15. Huang, Y; “In vivo stimulatory effect of Cordyceps sinensis mycelium and its fractions on reproductive functions in male mouse”; Life Sciences; 2004 Jul 16; 75(9):1051-62; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15207653
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  17. Song, Jingjing, et al; “Studies on the Antifatigue Activities of Cordyceps Militaris Fruit Body Extract in Mouse Model”; Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine ; 2015; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553310/
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  26. Yun, Yunha; “Anti-diabetic effects of CCCA, CMESS, and cordycepin from Cordyceps militaris and the immune responses in streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice”; Natural Product Sciences (2003), 9(4), 291-298; http://chemport.cas.org/cgi-bin/sdcgi?APP=ftslink&action=reflink&origin=wiley&version=1%2E0&coi=1%3aCAS%3a528%3aDC%252BD2cXlvVOnsw%253D%253D&md5=3adc421d497eafad0074cc5a3a487a31
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