When it comes to mushrooms, there are two types of people: you either love them or hate them. But, what if I told you that specific mushrooms could provide you with certain “super powers”? While not all mushrooms are created equal, research is showing that many species of fungi support the health of our bodies in a number of ways, and some mycelium varieties can even support athletic performance.
I am not exactly talking about the mushrooms you find on a pizza or in a creamy risotto, but rather referring to a family of mushrooms known as “functional mushrooms.” These mushrooms provide health benefits to the body outside of their nutritional value. Some of the many health benefits that functional mushrooms can provide include:
- Inflammation modulation
- Immune support
- Healthy circulation
- Brain and nerve health
- Adaptogenic qualities
- Athletic performance and recovery
- And more!
While most of these mushrooms can be used culinarily, many may be found in supplements or as a powder. Mushroom-fortified drinks are also booming in the nutrition industry right now, with some of the more popular companies being Rasa, Four Sigmatic, MUD/WTR, and Om. Some of the key functional mushrooms used by these companies are: lion’s mane, turkey tail, chaga, cordyceps, reishi, and maitake. While all of these functional mushrooms have incredible benefits, three are especially beneficial for athletic performance: lion’s mane, turkey tail, and cordyceps. Before you go and invest all of your holiday bonus money on mushroom this and mushroom that, be sure to find out which mushrooms are right for you and your health goals.
Widely known for its neurotropic (i.e. brain boosting) properties, lion’s mane has been at the center of mushroom-related scientific study for its support in managing depression and other cognitive disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. According to a scientific review of current literature published in 2019, Lion’s mane has also been shown to have various health properties, such as being antioxidative, antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antihyperglycemic, and hypolipidemic . For athletes, lion’s mane can promote mental focus and clarity while training or competing, and it’s antioxidant properties may support healthy inflammation levels for timely recovery.
Lion’s mane can be found seasonally at certain health food stores, and can also be harvested from dead or decaying trees and logs in North America/Canada during the late summer and fall. Lion’s mane can also be found in supplement form, which can be easy to take as capsules, or as a powder (which may be easily added to smoothies and drinks).
Lion’s Mane Latte
- 1 cup hot coffee
- 1 cup warm milk of choice
- 1 tsp lion’s mane powder
- 1 tsp MCT oil
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- Add all of the ingredients into a blender or magic bullet
- Blend for 10-15 seconds until smooth
- Pour into your favorite mug, and enjoy
- Makes about 2 cups
Despite the name, I assure you that this mushroom does not come from a turkey’s backside. Instead, this incredible fungi is known for its powerful immune-supporting abilities. This type of mushroom grows on dead logs in Asia, North America, and Europe, and is named after the rings of brown and tan that mimic the aesthetic tail feathers of a turkey. Turkey tail has been traditionally used for lung health and immune support, and it shows promise for treating different types of cancer. Turkey tail is rich in the antioxidants and polysaccharides that provide direct support for the immune system. It is also a great mushroom for digestion and detoxification.
For athletes, this is a great fungi to include during times of intense training, stress, or travel to help keep your immune system strong. This mushroom is a bit tough and chewy to consume, so consider finding turkey tail as a powder or capsule.
Turkey Tail Immune Elixir
- 3 cups of water
- 1 lemon (squeezed)
- 1 beet (peeled)
- 1 small apple (core removed)
- 1 inch of fresh ginger (peeled)
- 1 small turmeric root (peeled)
- 1 Tbs elderberry syrup
- 2 Tbs raw apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp turkey tail powder
- Optional: ice, dash of cayenne pepper
- Add all of the ingredients to a blender
- Blend until smooth
- Garnish with a lemon wedge, and enjoy
When it comes to boosting performance and endurance, cordyceps are the true mushroom hero. Cordyceps have been traditionally used in Chinese medicine for fatigue, respiratory illnesses, kidney diseases, and renal and cardiac dysfunction. More recently, however, cordyceps have been studied for their promise in athletic performance.
Scientists speculate that cordyceps have the ability to improve performance by increasing blood flow throughout the body, enhancing oxygen utilization, and by acting as an antioxidant. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in 2016 found that the properties of cordyceps may allow athletes to maintain a higher intensity of exercise, while the reduction of oxidative stress from high intensity exercise may delay fatigue.
This mushroom is unique in that it grows as a parasitic fungi on caterpillars, making this mushroom rare, expensive, and hard to cultivate at home. However, there are plenty of supplemental products available on the market as powders or capsules.
Chia Cordycep Truffles
- ½ cup coconut oil
- 1 Tbs cordyceps powder
- 12 ounces of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- ¼ cup raw cacao powder
- Dash of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and himalayan salt
- Optional: 1-2 Tbs of maple syrup
- In a saucepan, warm the coconut oil and chocolate chips until fully melted
- Remove from heat and mix in cordyceps, chia seeds, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, salt, and the maple syrup for optional sweetness
- Mix until smooth
- Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, or until mixture is hardened
- Scoop with a spoon to form small balls, and roll balls in cacao powder until fully covered
- Eat immediately and enjoy, or refrigerate for future happiness! (use within 4-5 days)
Whether you are currently in an intense competition cycle, or focused on training for your next big season of climbing, functional mushrooms can be an asset to any athletic regiment. These mushrooms can help to boost your performance, promote recovery between sessions, provide mental clarity and focus when you need it the most, and can help keep your immune system strong along the way!
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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to treat, diagnose, or mitigate disease. Emily Ipsen is a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner, not a doctor. Certain foods and nutrients can interact with prescription medication. Become aware of any potential interactions before incorporating new foods or supplements into your routine by consulting with your primary care physician.