Rhodiola Rosea: The Triple Threat
I've written about how Rhodiola Rosea elevates beta-endorphins, making it The Ultimate Chill Pill. I've also documented how it increases endurance, possibly by raising blood levels of EPO.
Now there's a new study that shows it has a really strong effect on anaerobic performance, too, meaning that it could help you lift heavy weights for more reps.
Researchers recruited 11 physically active college-aged females to participate in a counterbalanced, placebo-controlled trial to examine how supplementing with Rhodiola Rosea affected sprint cycling times.
One testing group received 3x500 mg. doses of Rhodiola per day for three days, with an additional 500-mg. dose the morning of testing, while the counter group received the same amount of a placebo. Participants then completed 3x15-second Wingate Anaerobic Tests (WAnTs), interspersed with 2-minute active recovery periods.
Each trial was separated by a 7-day "washout" period to make sure the supplement or placebo had dissipated from their systems.
The group that took the Rhodiola experienced ergogenic gains of about 5 to 8%, which is pretty damn big. They also experienced increased time-to-exhaustion, prompting the researchers to write, "Rhodiola may possess ergogenic benefits and findings that hold important implications for boosting anaerobic performance in repeated bouts of anaerobic exercise."
While this study was done using women, there's no reason to think the benefits of Rhodiola are sex-dependent since the effects don't seem to be hormonally based. Of course, truth be told, the researchers weren't exactly sure how the herb increased performance.
Other studies involving Rhodiola, albeit for different purposes, proposed specific pathways or mechanisms. For instance, in a study examining Rhodiola's effect on endurance, the herb increased the production of erythropoietin (EPO), which caused more red blood cells to be produced.
The one cited earlier about Rhodiola's calming effects found that the herb increased levels of serotonin. The scientists who conducted the current study, however, didn't venture an opinion, but it's possible it increases work performance through some sort of CNS (central nervous system) related pathways.
The current study also brought up another question: While they used a protocol of 3x500 mg. a day for three days, does Rhodiola really need to be loaded before it can be effective?
My experience with the herb – along with many of the other studies (even though they may have been looking at one of Rhodiola's other effects) – says no. I suspect they could have pretty much gotten the same results by just taking a couple of 500 mg. doses 30 to 60 minutes before each trial.
It's important – as it is with all herbal supplements – to make sure you get one that's been standardized to contain specific and equivalent amounts of the active ingredient(s). In the case of Rhodiola Rosea, you need to make sure the product you use has been standardized to contain at least 3% total rosavins and 1% salidroside (that's the strength they used in this particular study).
However, for best results, use a more potent brew. This Rhodiola supplement is an elite version of the herb, having been standardized to contain 15% rosavins and 1.5% salidroside.
For best results, whether to chill, to run or peddle farther, or to lift heavier and longer, take 2 capsules in the morning and 2 capsules six hours later (or prior to training).
- Ballmann CG et al. Effects of short-term Rhodiola Rosea (Golden Root Extract) supplementation on anaerobic exercise performance. J Sports Sci. 2018 Oct 29:1-6. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2018.1538028.