Boosting Stamina with Herbs and Nutrition
By David Bock
Many athletes focus on increasing stamina. Aside from training and physical
abilities, stamina is a function of how well your body can get energy
and oxygen to the muscles over an extended period of time. With the proper
use of herbs and a well-chosen diet, you can increase your stamina naturally.
Muscles store a finite amount of energy to be used in activity. That
energy is replenished by the flow of blood. For an athlete, the goal is
to maximize the body’s ability to replenish energy — in the
form of sugars and oxygen — quicker than it is being depleted.
Sugars that drive the muscles are easily carried by blood. Oxygen (and
carbon dioxide) transport is handled by the red blood cells (erythrocytes).
The important part of the oxygen transport is the hemoglobin or Heme.
This complex protein contains iron, latches onto oxygen, and then trades
it for carbon dioxide at the cell level. The efficiency of this respiratory
process is vital to the functioning of the body.
Athletes in training have found many ways to maximize the blood’s
oxygen-carrying capacity. Some athletes train in the mountains (or artificially
replicate altitude) to force the body to build more oxygen-carrying capacity
due to the low oxygen levels in high altitudes. Some athletes try “blood
doping” where they store their blood, allow the body to replenish
the blood, and then add the blood cells back into the body to artificially
boost the amount of red blood cells. For most athletes the question is,
what can I do that will naturally benefit the oxygen-carrying capacity
of the blood?
From a herbal medicine perspective, we can look at the condition of anemia,
which is a clinical deficiency of blood function. Anemia overlaps a Chinese
medical concept of blood deficiency. This is treated with blood-nourishing
herbs, which include Dang gui, bai shao, shu di huang, e jiao, and others.
These herbs are dense in texture, and often rich in proteins and dark
in color. These herbs were understood to nourish the body in very specific
ways to relieve the symptoms of blood deficiency. What we now know from
modern nutritional research is that in order for the body to build more
blood cells, it needs certain materials. These herbs contain many of these
For the athlete in training who wants to improve blood function, and
thus stamina, the body must have enough of the right materials to build
more blood cells. Blood cells are constantly being built and replaced,
so the body needs to constantly take in the materials to build blood.
There are four main nutritional components to building blood: Amino acids,
vitamin B12, Folic acid, and Iron. Amino acids are the building blocks
of the proteins that form the blood cells. These are most readily available
in meats, and other complete protein-rich foods.
Vitamin B12 activates the amino acids during the process of protein formation.
Vitamin B12 adds reddish color to organ meats, seafood, egg yolks, fermented
soy and fermented dairy. Vitamin B12 breaks down at temperatures higher
than 100 degrees Celsius. In order to get the most Vitamin B12 these foods
should be boiled/steamed or only lightly fried. Folic acid works with
Vitamin B12 in protein and tissue formation. It is found in dark leafy
vegetables and is often added to many types of bread.
Ultimately, the red blood cell is a carrier for iron, which holds the
oxygen. Iron is most prevalent in liver and other organ meats, fruit,
legumes (beans) and dark leafy vegetables. In its oxidized form, iron
provides a rust color to foods. In fact, the rust-brown color in feces
is actually old red blood cells being removed from the body.
General guide for blood building.
Eat dark-colored foods. Vitamin B12 and iron add a reddish tone to
foods and darken the overall color of foods. Dark-colored foods tend
to have higher levels of antioxidants. The destruction of color through
overcooking is an indication of nutrient loss. However, cooked vegetables
digest better than raw vegetables and make more nutrients available
to the body than raw vegetables. Cook vegetables just until the colors
Eat a combination of protein sources that provide different types
of amino acids. Varieties of proteins provide more types of materials
to your body.
Eat fermented foods. There are some food scientists who are starting
to question the lack of fermented foods, which contain B12, in the
modern diet. There is some suspicion that fermented foods do a better
job of providing nutrition than the unfermented variations. Fermented
foods include fermented cheeses and fermented soy products such as
miso and tofu.
Boil and steam food as opposed to roasting. High levels of heat destroy
many nutrients. Lower heat preparation methods preserve many nutrients.
If you are a vegetarian athlete, it is vitally important that you
learn how to combine foods to create complete proteins and get the
nutrients you need. Using rice and beans or corn and squash as well
as other combinations can give you complete proteins.
Always avoid lead exposure. Lead is found in the paint dust of old
houses; on some decorative plates and crystal; and in some canned
goods and fish. Lead easily replaces Iron in the Heme and prevents
that blood cell from carrying oxygen. This is why lead exposure is
associated with learning disabilities, as the blood fails to carry
enough oxygen to the growing brains of children. There are lead test
kits available to check your home. Another trick is to look at the
paint in your house or other places where you spend time. Lead paint
cracks in a very distinctive way, with rectangular cracks that look
like the layout of a brick wall. If you have this type of cracked
paint in your home, get professional advice about proper removal.
Traditional blood nourishing herbs, listed earlier, can also be used.
Often these herbs are present in herbal trauma formulas, or can be supplemented.
An overdose of these types of herbs can result in a heavy sluggish feeling.
Women who have heavy periods may see increased cramping and blood flow
when using these types of herbs. Always consult with a nationally certified
herbalist before starting any herbal protocol.
About the Author:
David Bock, C.Ac. Dipl.OM, FABORM, is a teacher
of Wadokai Aikido (under Roy Suenaka Sensei), a Wisconsin Certified
Acupuncturist, NCCAOM National Board Certified in Acupuncture
and Chinese Herbology, author of the online column “The
Practical Herbalist” at www.lakecountryonline.com.
He can be reached at www.hartlandorientalmed.com.
David is a regular contributor to FightingArts.com.