Ginseng is an herb of the plant genus Panax, traditionally used in Chinese medicine to protect the body from physiological stress. The active ingredients in Ginseng are ginsenosides, or plant steroid-like compounds. Ginseng is a popular herbal supplement most studied with regards to physical performance enhancement. Ginseng supplements may enhance endurance performance if taken in sufficient and long enough doses. (Barton 2011, Lee 2016, Sellami 2018)
Ginseng is reported to have several pharmacological effects on the central nervous system namely immune, neurological, antioxidant, and cardiovascular systems. These effects can be attributed to the active ginsenoside compounds. The ginsenosides significantly alter fuel utilization during prolonged exercise and chronic ginseng supplementation may have an ergogenic effect because of enhanced fat oxidation during exercise. (Kim 2016)
Some evidence reports that chronic use of Ginseng improved cardiorespiratory function and lowered blood lactate concentrations (Sellami 2018). However, results demonstrating improved physical performance are mainly from sedentary and untrained individuals, which may not prove useful for well-trained athletes looking for ergogenic effects. A review of red ginseng supplementation showed no effects on aerobic measures including heart rate, VO2max, and time to exhaustion (Lee 2016). The evidence remains equivocal regarding ginseng supplementation and human exercise performance due to variation in dosing, duration, and type consumed (Chen 2012).
Ginseng supplementation may have ergogenic properties with dosing of >200mg/day for >8weeks, but recommendation for use among athletes is not warranted since there is no evidence supporting these claims in well-trained individuals. Ginseng supplementation is considered generally safe with appropriate use. However, reported side effects include headaches, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, and blood pressure fluctuations. (Sellami 2018)
Barton D (2011). Ginseng. Oncology, 25(4), 42-45.
Chen CK, Muhamad AS, Ooi FK (2012). Herbs in exercise and sports. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 31(1), 4-4. doi:10.1186/1880-6805-31-4.
Kim J, Park J, Lim K (2016). Nutrition supplements to stimulate lipolysis: A review in relation to endurance exercise capacity. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 62(3), 141-161.
Lee NH, Jung HC, Lee S (2016). Red ginseng as an ergogenic aid: A systematic review of clinical trials. Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, 20(4), 13-19.
Sellami M, Slimeni O, Pokrywka A, Kuvačić G, D Hayes L, Milic M, Padulo J (2018). Herbal medicine for sports: A review. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 14.