FACEBOOK LIVE: Herbs and Performance

FACEBOOK LIVE: Herbs and Performance

Dr Brad McEwen PhD, MHSc (Hum Nutr), BHSc

Naturopath | Nutritionist | Herbalist | Educator | Researcher | Mentor

Herbal medicines and optimum nutrition play fundamental roles in optimising health and performance. There is a greater need for performance and recovery in sports and everyday life. Something to note is that performance and recovery is not just physical, but holistically of physical, mental, and emotional health and performance. This article explores some herbs (Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Garcinia, Green Tea, Lemon Balm, and Lemon Verbena) that have shown benefit in physical, mental and/or emotional performance.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has long been used in the traditional Ayurvedic medicine to enhance memory and improve cognition (reference). Ashwagandha is known as the “rejuvenator” and “revitaliser” (reference).

Some of the functions and uses of Ashwagandha:


A 12-week study found that Ashwagandha:

  • Improved upper (bench press power) and lower-body strength (squat power)
  • Improved 7.5 km time trial performance
  • Improved perceived recovery scores
  • Supported a favourable distribution of body mass
  • Well tolerated clinically

This study was in recreationally active men over a 12-week resistance training and supplementation period (reference).

A 30-day study found that Ashwagandha:

  • Increased muscle strength
  • Improved body composition
  • Reduced total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (reference)

 An 8-week study of Ashwagandha in untrained males found that:

  • Muscle strength was significantly increased in both the upper-body and lower-body.
  • Changes in muscle size using circumference measurements in the arms and chest were greater than changes seen in the placebo group.
  • Reductions in body fat percentage (measured with bioimpedance) were greater in the ashwagandha supplemented group.
  • Blood markers of damage and recovery, and basal testosterone levels were also slightly improved (reference).


Another study found that Ashwagandha increased barbell velocity, power, and VO2Max (reference).


Brahmi (Bacopa monniera)

Brahmi (Bacopa monniera) has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, either alone or in combination with other herbs, as an enhancer of cognitive performance (reference) and as a memory and learning enhancer (reference). Brahmi is used in Ayurveda as a nootropic to improve intellect and memory. It is an important component of many Ayurvedic herbal formulations that target the central nervous system and to manage conditions such as memory, lack of concentration, and anxiety (reference). 

Some of the functions and uses of Brahmi:

A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial found that Brahmi significantly improved speed of visual information processing, learning rate, and memory consolidation (reference).

A meta-analysis suggested that Brahmi has the potential to improve cognition, particularly speed of attention (reference).

Garcinia (Garcinia gummi-gutta) was traditionally used as a digestive remedy. Studies have shown that the Garcinia as well as (-)-hydroxycitric acid (HCA), a main organic acid component of the Garcinia fruit rind, exhibited anti-obesity activity. This action includes reduced food intake and body fat gain by regulating the serotonin levels related to satiety, increased fat oxidation and decreased de novo lipogenesis (reference).

HCA is a potent inhibitor of adenosine triphosphate-citrate lyase, a catalyst for the conversion process of citrate to acetyl-coenzyme A, which plays a key role in fatty acid, cholesterol and triglycerides syntheses (reference).

Some of the functions and uses of Garcinia:

Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) has been used as a beverage for millennia and has shown benefits in sports.

Some of the functions and uses of Green tea:

A study on 39 healthy non-athlete overweight and obese females found improvements in body weight, body fat percentage, body mass index (BMI), triglyceride, low-density lipoprotein, blood pressure, and heart rate. This study used a control group, aerobic training group, or those in the combination of aerobic training and green tea (reference).

A study in untrained women found that during pre-exercise rest green tea ingestion significantly increased fat oxidation (24%). Fat oxidation levels were significantly higher throughout minutes 30 to 75 during post-exercise (reference).

A study found that green tea supplementation reduced oxidative stress in sprint-trained athletes (reference). Additionally, green tea did not seem to hinder training adaptation in antioxidant enzyme systems.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a medicinal plant that has long been used in European and other Traditional Medicines, particularly for its memory-enhancing properties.

Some of the functions and uses of Lemon Balm:

Contains Rosmarinic acid which has positive effects on mood and cognitive function (reference).

A study investigated the effect of single doses of 600 mg, 1000 mg, and 1600 mg of Lemon Balm, or a matching placebo, in healthy young participants, at 7-day intervals. Cognitive performance and mood were assessed pre-dose and at 1 hour, 3 hours, and 6 hours post-dose. Improved memory performance, mood, and increased “calmness” (reference).


Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is a species of flowering plant in the verbena family Verbenaceae, traditionally used for its effects on digestive disorders and rheumatism (reference).

Some of the functions and uses of Lemon Verbena:

A randomised, placebo-controlled trial using Recoverben® in men and women performing exhaustive exercise (intensive jumps). The people in the Lemon Verbena (Recoverben®) group benefited from less muscle damage as well as faster and full recovery. Compared to the placebo group, those taking Lemon Verbena had significantly less exercise-related loss of muscle strength. Participants also had improved glutathione peroxidase (antioxidant) activity and less movement induced pain (reference).

Herbal medicines and optimum nutrition play fundamental roles in optimising health and performance. Looking at these herbs, there are many options to take them individually, or in combination, to support and improve physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing and performance.


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