Peter Dixon: Can Algae Help Climbing?

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Hippocrates is famous for saying “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Spirulina, Reishi, Chaga, Cordyceps, and Lions Mane are much more than food.


Like most dedicated climbers out there I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my training and overall performance. Whether I’m outside projecting the next inspired line or indoors competing for a spot on the podium, I know that what I use to fuel my body is one of the most important parts of my training regime. It’s no secret that micro nutrients have a major effect on how strong and focussed we feel on an average day. So I’m going to share a couple of my favorites and describe what they are and how and why I incorporate them into my workout. For the past two years I’ve been boosting my training with the highest quality supplemental mushroom powders out there, and, an algae commonly known as Spirulina. As exotic as this may sound to many of you, it’s certainly nothing new. For thousands of years Eastern cultures have prized hard tree mushrooms for their healing and immune boosting powers. More recently, in 1993 three female Chinese runners broke five world records while supplementing with them. Their success was attributed to the routine use of a particular strain of Cordyceps mushroom powder. Since then, many studies have shown positive effects when used by endurance athletes in supporting high level athletic performance. As for the mysterious blue green algae Spirulina, it’s an ancient superfood which was routinely harvested by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations no doubt for there nutritive and energy enhancing properties.

So what is Spirulina? Put simply, Spirulina is a nitrogen based blue green algae. It’s an extremely high energy food which works great before or after a workout, and is widely used for joint soreness and joint support. It’s a complete protein, meaning it provides the body with the eight essential amino acids. Spirulina protein dials direct and doesn’t need to be processed through the liver like nuts and seeds-a common post workout food. While meat is on average comprised of about 22-24% protein, Spirulina weighs in around 60% protein. Perhaps this is why it’s referred to as a Superfood. Before any training session, I like to take about 5 – 6 grams. I’ve found it improves my overall endurance and adds a huge boost in my ability to recover quickly between sessions. After a strenuous workout where my body is pushed to its limits, I take an additional 10 – 15 grams to help rebuild the muscle tissue that has been torn down. One thing to remember about any supplement is to find the cleanest source of that substance possible. There are many options out there, some are way better than others, so it’s important to do your research and find the best product.peter 3

Ok, so your starting to see how spirulina plays into my training as a protein source but mushrooms? Many of you may be wondering what exactly I mean by mushrooms in the first place. Well I’m not talking about those white, squishy things from the supermarket, or something associated with the 60’s and Phish shows. I’m referring to hard tree mushrooms also know as herbal or tonic mushrooms. These particular mushrooms are one of the most mysterious life forms on the planet, and have been documented and researched in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. I train with four specific strains of mushroom powders in my daily training routine.peter 2

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) This mushroom powder has been researched and studied in Chinese medicine for over 1500 years. It’s currently used by many Olympic athletes as a nutritional supplement. I take 2-4 grams a day usually in the morning before my training routine. This is a high energy supplement which energizes without stimulating.

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) This is my favorite mushroom. It’s a great introduction to the world of mycelia for it’s panacea like properties. Slightly sweet to the taste, it can be thrown in a banana smoothie or homemade nutrition bar without compromising flavor. Primarily it’s function in my training regime is to support the immune system. After a typical work out there is a period of time where your immune system is compromised. Because of this it’s easy to get sick during this time, especially if your work out consists of climbing in a public rock gym. The effects of this herb are cumulative however, so I take Reishi everyday. I take about one to two tbsp and increase the dose if I feel the beginnings of a cold or flu. Reishi, like other medicinal mushrooms, is a food source so I have no concern regarding the amount I take. Tonic herbs are non-toxic and aid the body as a whole food source of nutrition. I like to add my daily dose to coconut water as a natural sports beverage booster. Together it tastes like chocolate milk!

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) This mushroom is one of the most powerful adaptogenic herbs because it helps your body combat stress, and it boasts the highest antioxidant rating of any food ever tested. I find Chaga to be greatly stimulating and so I like to brew a pot of Chaga tea now and then before a workout session, for climbers it’s a healthy alternative for those who enjoy the effects of a pre session coffee.

Lion’s Mane (hericium erinaceus) Lion’s mane is the only know substance which helps promote the growth and repair of brain synapses. In bouldering brain power is key for solving problems quickly and precisely, so I primarily use it as a cognitive boosting mushroom and I believe it helps with those unique beta sequences. I take about a tbsp per day and incorporate it into a smoothie.

If you are new to the world of medicinal mushrooms and algae, I challenge you to experiment, research, and see for yourself if they improve your overall endurance, recovery, and performance. Both are considered whole foods and provide much more than athletic support.