People who experience muscle soreness after playing sports or exercising might wonder if certain supplements can help. After all, wouldn’t it be nice if muscle soreness and fatigue didn’t keep us from repeating the activities we love the very next day?
Over the years, researchers have investigated hundreds of herbs, spices, vitamins, and minerals to see if any of these can improve delayed onset muscle soreness and sports performance.
One of the herbs that shows promise is Rhodiola, a plant also known by names such as golden root and arctic root.
A 2022 systematic review (a type of research article that synthesizes and compares the results from other studies) supports rhodiola supplements’ effectiveness in improving sport and exercise performance. The authors believe that this is largely due to rhodiola’s ability to reduce oxidative stress and enhance muscle recovery.
How does rhodiola reduce muscle soreness?
During exercise or sports, our muscles require more energy than usual to do what we need them to do. Quickly turning large amounts of stored energy like glycogen and fat into cellular energy during exercise can lead to higher than usual levels of unstable molecules called reactive oxygen species.
An imbalance in the amount of reactive oxygen species and the amount of antioxidant molecules that can neutralize them is called oxidative stress. Excessive amounts of oxidative stress can lead to muscle discomfort and muscle soreness after exercise.
According to the systematic review mentioned above, rhodiola extract “can increase antioxidant capacity by upregulating antioxidant enzymes, reduce skeletal muscle damage, and increase the body's resistance to fatigue”. Essentially, it can play an important role in neutralizing the reactive oxygen species produced during exercise, which not only helps prevent the muscle damage that can cause discomfort during and after exercise but can also help us get in a better effort.
Does rhodiola enhance sports performance?
In addition to potentially helping people recover from sports and various forms of exercise, there is some evidence that rhodiola might enhance sports performance. One study examined in the 2022 systematic review showed that study participants who took rhodiola had lower perceived exertion scores during intense exercise compared to study participants who took the placebo. Another study showed that participants who took rhodiola extract had more explosive power when lifting weights compared to participants who did not take rhodiola.
How might rhodiola supplements benefit athletes?
According to exercise scientists, rhodiola supplements “may not only reduce exercise-induced muscle damage” and muscle pain, but “may also have a preventive effect”. With less oxidative stress and less muscle damage during exercise, athletes who use a rhodiola supplement may see improved performance and notice less muscle soreness after exercise.
Will I notice less muscle soreness and increased performance?
While the results from multiple studies are promising, not all studies on rhodiola supplementation show similar results. There are studies that have not found statistically significant results when comparing groups that take rhodiola supplements to groups who have not taken rhodiola supplements.
This might mean that it’s possible for some individuals to benefit from rhodiola supplements, while others might not. It also means that more research is needed on the efficacy of rhodiola supplements.
One way to find out if you personally notice benefits from taking a rhodiola supplement is to try it yourself. Remember to run new supplements by your doctor or dietitian first to make sure your current medications or health conditions do not interact with the supplement.
If your healthcare team gives you the go-ahead, our Recovery formula is a great supplement to try out for exercise-related pain and inflammation.
Written by Katie Mednick MBA, RDNKatie is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is passionate about helping people who struggle with chronic inflammation and pain feel better.