Does Rhodiola Rosea Increase Exercise Performance?

Athletes looking to maximize performance are often found exploring nootropics. Nootropics are natural or synthetic supplements that claim to boost mental performance, including creativity, attention span, executive functions, energy levels, and more. One that is creating a lot of buzz lately is Rhodiola Rosea.

Rhodiola Rosea is a medicinal plant that has been used in folk medicine for centuries. Today, many supplement companies claim that it can increase the body’s physical capacity and fight fatigue. But does Rhodiola Rosea work? Let’s find out.

What is Rhodiola Rosea?

Rhodiola Rosea is a fibrous flowering plant found all over the coldest and highest altitude regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. In Russia and Scandanavia, it has been used in folk medicines to fight fatigue caused by the harsh cold and altitude sickness. 

More recently, many supplement companies have been adding it to their lineups marketed toward competitive athletes. The potential for energy replenishment will be particularly enticing to those in competitive bodybuilding, as there are often long periods of caloric deficit to keep body fat levels within an acceptable range.

What are the Benefits of Rhodiola Rosea Supplements?

Rhodiola has a long and rich history in early medicines across many different cultures, and the purported benefits are quite astounding:

  • The mood-boosting effects can help an athlete decrease their perceived exertion, allowing them to train longer and harder. [1]
  • The adaptogenic (stress fighting) effects can have anti-depressive and anti-anxiety effects on the central nervous system. [2]
  • Taken an hour before training, Rhodiola can increase endurance. [3]
  • It can reduce lactate levels, which can improve recovery time when doing exhaustive exercise.

There was an interesting study conducted on marathon runners several years ago. They found that the runners who supplemented Rhodiola during their training periods experienced an increase in bioactive compounds that had antiviral properties. [4]

These properties can be particularly advantageous to bodybuilding athletes, as they become much more susceptible to cold and flu viruses when their body is under high stress during competition prep!

Rhodiola Rosea Side Effects

There is a common misconception among the wellness community that any naturally occurring herb or plant will be completely safe for consumption. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. 

While Rhodiola is considered safe for consumption, hence its prevalence, there are a few things to watch out for before taking it. First, most studies recommend taking it for a maximum of 6-12 weeks at a time. If it is a supplement you want to add to your stack, be mindful to cycle off periodically to give your body time to rest.

Rhodiola may also have uncomfortable side effects for some athletes, including dry mouth, excessive saliva, or dizziness. These side effects can be mitigated by pairing the supplement with a meal which will slow digestion and tamper how quickly the body will metabolize it.

Rhodiola Rosea also has been shown to negatively interact with several medications, so thorough research and consultations with doctors should be considered before adding it to your diet.

Rhodiola Rosea Drug Interactions

While Rhodiola Rosea is largely considered safe for consumption for many athletes, several important contraindications should be noted:

  • Rhodiola can assist in lowering blood pressure, which means it should not be combined with any blood pressure medications. [5]
  • It can also lower blood sugar, which means diabetic athletes (or other athletes on blood sugar medications) will most likely find adverse drug interactions with their blood sugar medications.
  • Rhodiola may interfere with birth control medications
  • Affects on psychotropic medications like SSRIs, MAOIs, and others have been prevalent in multiple studies. [6]
  • There is no conclusive research on the plant during pregnancy or breastfeeding, so it will be safer for mothers to avoid it during these periods.

Does Rhodiola Increase Physical Performance?

The benefits of Rhodiola Rosea are very attractive, particularly to athletes in high-intensity sports like bodybuilding. While some of the studies are very intriguing, there is not enough research to provide conclusive evidence about Rhodiola’s effectiveness.

Across all studies, many are quite small. Most sample sizes are groups of 10-50 participants, which is not large enough to be scientifically significant. While some athletes did report positive effects, it was often only 50% of the group.

For every study showcasing positive benefits, another study can be found to show no statistical improvement.

Is Taking Rhodiola Rosea Pre-Workout Beneficial?

Bodybuilders and strength athletes often look for the same three major benefits when shopping for pre-workout supplements. Increased energy is most important, followed by improved performance, and muscle growth stimulation. 

The claims that Rhodiola can fight fatigue and improve mood can make it an enticing ingredient to add to a pre-workout stack, and many supplement companies have started adding it to their compounds.

Is it beneficial, though? Unfortunately, the jury is still out on that one, and the results are still very inconclusive. That said, if you aren’t on a medication that can be contraindicative, you could experiment with it and see if you notice any benefits. 

Should Bodybuilders Take Rhodiola Rosea?

While the claims are certainly very enticing, the research on the benefits of Rhodiola Rosea is still quite thin and inconclusive. If you’re looking for a supplement to help with performance in the gym, many other options on the market are likely to have a more significant positive effect on your training and recovery.

What Should You Take Instead of Rhodiola Rosea?

When looking at the purported benefits of Rhodiola, it can be broken down into three main perks. For each, there is a supplement that will provide more significant results.

  1. Mood boosting: L-carnitine is a naturally occurring chemical compound that assists your body with turning fat into energy, and increases brain and heart function.
  2. Muscle recovery: Consuming whey protein pre- or post-workout will assist your body in muscle repair and shorten your recovery time.
  3. Increased performance: Creatine is another naturally recurring amino acid that is one of the most well-researched and science-backed supplements on the market. It assists with rapid energy production during workouts which will increase your performance.

Of note, neither of these three supplements negatively counteract each other and can all be taken simultaneously. They also do not require cycling off in the same way Rhodiola does. In fact, creatine effects increase over time with increased saturation.

Conclusion

If plant medicine is of interest to you and you would like to add Rhodiola to your stack, it is definitely an intriguing plant with a fascinating history in many cultures! 

It is important to remember that general recommendations call for taking it for short periods, such as a 6-12 week cycle broken up with tolerance breaks. This will give your liver a break and help with tolerance levels.

If you are looking for the best supplement for the money that will increase your performance and energy levels, you will likely find others that are better suited for your goals.

  1. ND;, D. M. J. C. The effect of acute rhodiola rosea ingestion on exercise heart rate, substrate utilisation, mood state, and perceptions of exertion, arousal, and pleasure/displeasure in active men. Journal of sports medicine (Hindawi Publishing Corporation) Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26464892/. (Accessed: 20th December 2022)
  2. J;, P. A. W. G. S. Rosenroot (rhodiola rosea): Traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20378318/. (Accessed: 20th December 2022)
  3. De Bock K;Eijnde BO;Ramaekers M;Hespel P; Acute rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15256690/. (Accessed: 20th December 2022)
  4. Ahmed M;Henson DA;Sanderson MC;Nieman DC;Zubeldia JM;Shanely RA; Rhodiola rosea exerts antiviral activity in athletes following a competitive marathon race. Frontiers in nutrition Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26284250/. (Accessed: 20th December 2022)
  5. Rhodiola: Overview, uses, side effects, precautions, interactions, dosing and reviews. WebMD Available at: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-883/rhodiola. (Accessed: 20th December 2022)
  6. Rhodiola rosea. Mental Health America Available at: https://www.mhanational.org/rhodiola-rosea. (Accessed: 20th December 2022)
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