The Anti-Stress Vitamin: What Are Adaptogens and How Do They Help?

Courtesy: P2Life

Competitive swimmers are trained in the fine art of tightrope walking (metaphorically speaking) by performing a dazzling display of balance and discipline on a daily basis. There’s a fine line between pushing too hard and risking an injury, and not pushing hard enough to cut the split seconds off our times that we’ve been hammering away at. We put stress on our bodies in order to adapt them to heavier training loads and to build speed, strength, and power. Being disciplined enough to recover adequately, making sure we’re fueling and resting our bodies correctly while balancing the stresses of family life, work and or studies is a tall order. This generates mental stress, and sometimes anxiety, which when sustained over long periods can lead to burnout. How we respond to these physical and cognitive loads will define how well we adapt, and how able we are to build ourselves up into the athletes we want to become.

Incorporating practices such as meditation, visualization, a healthy diet and scheduling sufficient sleep are all fantastic tools for getting anxiety under control and are great strategies to manage the factors that are within our control. Another, less well-known, tool swimmers can throw into this mix are adaptogens. Swimmers have long been adding adaptogens to a balanced diet to help their bodies adapt to physical and cognitive stresses and to mitigate the negative impacts of stress. Some even refer to adaptogens as the anti-stress vitamin. If this is news to you, or you’ve never heard of adaptogens, it’s about time we introduce you to this natural, well-studied, and tested family of herbs.

What is an adaptogen? 

“Adaptogens are compounds that are able to prevent the physical and chemical effects of stress” – Examine. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defined an adaptogen, in 1998, as “a new kind of metabolic regulator that has been proven to help in environmental adaptation and prevent external harms.” Adaptogenic herbs, namely Rhodiola Rosea, Eleutherococcus senticosus and Schisandra Chinensis, have been around for centuries and are commonly used as an anti-fatigue agent and to counteract the negative effects of stress.

The term “adaptogen” was first used in 1940 by N. Lazarev, a Russian scientist and gained momentum during World War II. The idea of improving mental and physical performance by means of a pill became increasingly popular, especially for pilots, submarine crews and later cosmonauts. The Soviet Union began publishing its first studies in military journals. Adaptogens have recently been gaining publicity bordering on becoming a buzzword with the New York Times and Time Magazine attempting to answer questions such as “Why cordyceps and maitake are suddenly galloping through your smoothie.”

While many “superfoods,” even the bizarre-looking caterpillar-like fungi, cordyceps, have come to recently enjoy the title “adaptogen” they are not, in the true sense, an adaptogen. Many do not meet the criteria scientists use to define these compounds and as such not all of them will have the desired optimal benefits.

What is a true adaptogen?

The Swedish Herbal Medicine Institute’s +30 years of research on adaptogens has yielded a comprehensive set of 3 criteria for true adaptogens:

  1. “Can not only maintain or recover homeostasis and allostasis but can also promote anabolic recovery.”
  2. “Can produce positive stress response and the associated hormone expression.”
  3. “Strengthen the functioning of each systems, promote optimal response, promote recovery of function, and help regulate energy use by improving the function of neuroendocrine system and enhancing cellular energy transfer, which can make the body utilize oxygen, glucose, lipids and proteins effectively, thus providing us with a steady supply of energy”

While some herbs, and fungi, show promising benefits, not all of them have been widely studied enough to confirm whether they check the boxes. The most extensively studied and confirmed true adaptogens are:

  1. Schisandra chinesis is a berry from the Schisandra plant, with cardioprotective effects, which help to increase blood flow and nitric oxide bioavailability. It also has strong antioxidant properties. Interest in Schizandra dates back as early as 1895 in Russia and to 1903 in the Far East.
  2. Eleutherococcus senticosus, also known as Siberian ginseng, also used to combat fatigue has also been shown to have immune boosting properties in that it stimulates T-cell proliferation, and increased oxygen uptake.
  3. Rhodiola Rosea is a Scandinavian herb, is a neuroprotective which has been shown to significantly reduce fatigue and exhaustion in prolonged stressful situations. It helps maintain natural cortisol levels, reduces physical fatigue and increases the uptake of oxygen. Rhodiola has been shown to “significantly reduce the fatigue and ‘burnout’ associated with stress and anxiety’”.

These three are all found in the P2Life EnduroBoost Adaptogens, which is formulated in the necessary therapeutic dosages for swimmers to promote physical performance, increase mental and physical stamina, reduce recovery times and fight stress. These three adaptogens have also shown clinical efficiency as an anti-inflammatory, and an immunotropic.

How do adaptogens work

Stress is intended to be a temporary state for the body rather than the chronic stress that is increasingly a part of the modern lifestyle. Adaptogens affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis) which helps regulate the body’s response to stress through the production and secretion of cortisol. Adaptogens essentially promote balance in your adrenal system, which is responsible for managing stress hormones. It looks something like this:

Adapted from

How are adaptogens used?

Athletes have used these adaptogens for a range of reasons, including reducing fatigue, boosting their immune systems, balancing mood, and for metabolic support. Typically taken before training, athletes are finding that integrating adaptogens into a balanced diet have long-last positive benefits on their health and performance. Enabling them to show up at their best over, and over, which puts them in the best position to achieve their goals, and shave seconds off their times.

P2Life’s Founder Tim Shead, International Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee, has 45+ World Records to his name, attributes his first World Record, and the many that followed to getting the right nutrition and getting a boost from adaptogens. “They help me feel better, they help me recover better and most importantly I have found the value of them and eating correctly in terms of overall nutrition. One of the things that I’m most proud of was, at the age of 56 I broke five world records in five races and did two lifetime personal bests, faster than I did when I was trying to make the 1976 Olympic Swimming team. So, at 56 I swam faster than I did at age 24. There’s only one reason, nutrition. If you feed the body correctly it’s amazing what the body can do and the clock doesn’t lie.”

Sounds good, right? Here’s the catch. There are a variety of adaptogens available on the market, but not all of them are manufactured or created equally. Unfortunately, just because it says adaptogen on the box, it doesn’t mean a product contains true adaptogens. Athletes should always do their due diligence before introducing anything into their training, taking anything that isn’t batch-tested is essentially a gamble. Aside from the obvious dangers of tainted products, some companies may be using lower quality ingredients, or not providing therapeutic dosages, only the minimal amount to be able to claim it’s in the product. P2Life’s EnduroBoost Adaptogens contain only true adaptogens, in the therapeutic dosages, and batch tests each and every product through the independent Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG).


  3. ”Evaluation of the effect of a single dose of a phytoadaptogen on the working capacity of human subjects during prolonged isolation”, by Bogatova RI, Shlykova LV, Salnitsky VP, Wikman G. Aerospace Environmental Med. 1997, 31(4):51-54.
  6. Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans. Wiegant FA, Surinova S, Ytsma E, Langelaar-Makkinje M, Wikman G, and Post J A. Biogerontology 2009, 10, 27–42.
  7.  ”Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus): Current Status as an Adaptogen”, by Norman R. 
  14. Farnsworth, A. Douglas Kinghorn, Djaja D. Soejarto, Donald P. Waller, Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, Health Sciences Center, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA. 

About P2Life

P2Life is family owned, performance-based, nutritional supplement company that was designed for swimmers, by swimmers, to protect health and promote performance. P2Life takes great care in ensuring that every batch of their performance line is tested to be free of banned and illegal substances. Even though P2Life products were the preferred choice for over 40% of the USA Men’s Olympic Swim team during the London Olympics, it is not just for Olympians. It is also the preferred choice for the top high school, collegiate and masters swimmers across the globe.

P2Life was founded by Tim Shead, a Masters Swimming Hall of Fame Inductee and 42x World Record Holder, and co-founded by Michael Shead, who was a national water polo player. Tim’s expertise in swimming and years of experience and knowledge working with nutritional products, combined with Michael’s love of innovation and technical background, has enabled the P2Life team to create a technologically savvy company that is dedicated to furthering athletic potential. P2Life has a strong e-commerce platform, which allows them to spend less time and funds on retail stores, and dedicate more time to the swimming community.




 P2Life is a SwimSwam partner. 

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1 year ago

So regardless of whether you are hypo or hyper, the same herb corrects your imbalance. I take supplements but I’ve never taken an adaptogen. EnduroBoost Adaptogens sounds like a good place to start. I’ll start off very slowly to make sure I tolerate it well. Since the dosage instructions on the bottle recommend taking EnduroBoost Adaptogens before meals, can I take them with other supplements I take on an empty stomach?

Reply to  AfterShock
1 year ago

That’s a good question and the answer will actually vary between people. Some prefer it with a light meal before a workout, while others on an empty stomach. My suggestion is to try both and see what works best for you. Just try take them at least 30min before a workout.