Supplements Made Simple - Ginseng

What is it- and does a runner need it?


Posted: 5 June 2000
by Liz Applegate

This is adapted from the book, Eat Smart, Play Hard, by RW USA Nutrition Editor Liz Applegate.

You can find ginseng everywhere: in sports drinks, iced tea, herbal supplements, and energy gels. Used for thousands of years in China, ginseng is an herb traditionally taken to remedy chronic fatigue, nervous disorders, low sex drive, and forgetfulness. In terms of exercise, ginseng has been said to boost energy levels and performance and to speed workout recovery. But aside from anecdotes and testimonials, there is no evidence that supports ginseng’s performance-boosting effects.

Research has been done, however. H. J. Engels, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, tested ginseng on a group of female athletes. Each athlete took either 200 milligrams of ginseng extract or a placebo daily for 8 weeks. The women then pedaled to exhaustion on stationary bikes while being monitored for performance factors during and immediately after exercise. The ginseng provided no performance or recovery benefit.

In another study, Dr. Engels looked at whether ginseng improves mood and whether it has a positive effect on perceived exertion. Again, researchers used an 8-week supplementation period and the same bike test. The results of this study showed that the herb provided no lift in mood, nor did the subjects feel that they were pedaling more easily.

On the other hand, ginseng might help you somewhat if you play a sport that requires a lot of hand-eye coordination. In one small study, researchers tested the reaction time of soccer players who had supplemented with either 350 milligrams of ginseng or a placebo for 6 weeks. They asked the soccer players to ride stationary bikes. During the strenuous workout, the soccer players who had taken the ginseng had faster reaction times than those who had taken the placebo.

My recommendation: Save your money for something more worthwhile. Ginseng has a long history as a medicinal herb, but it hasn’t been scientifically shown to provide any performance benefit.


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