HOLY Shiitake! Mushrooms & Athletics

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HOLY Shiitake! Mushrooms & Athletics

Strong-Athlete.com: Mushrooms & Athletics

Elite Distance runners have been using mushrooms to enhance their aerobic performance for decades.

| By Big Jeff Pearce |

Mushrooms, within the sphere of cultural thought, have consistently been associated as either a pizza topping or psychedelic.  Well, what if mushrooms could do more for people than just taste awesome on cheese and sauce?  Turns out, they can.  Certain kinds of mushrooms have been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes; just recently they have been used in athletic applications.

Cardiovascular Endurance & The Cordyceps Mushroom:

The Cordyceps mushroom was first documented in Tibet around the 15th century.  It laid in obscurity until 1993 when five world records in long distance running were broken by Chinese athletes; their coach attributed their success to the Cordyceps.  While the records that were broken that day are questioned, the effectiveness of the Cordyceps mushroom (sometimes combined with Rhodiola) has come under scientific review with the following positive results:

  • 50% increase in oxygen utilization1
  • 9% increase in aerobic capacity2
  • Improvement in VO2 max, energy levels, and exercise capability3

There are a number of different studies supporting the efficacy of Cordyceps supplementation for improving cardiovascular endurance.  It looks like this ancient mushroom may hold significant benefits for athletes looking to improve their endurance.

The Shiitake Mushroom:

Mushrooms and Athletics - Strong-Athlete.com

Humans have been using the Shiitake mushroom for 6000 years.

The Shiitake mushroom is certainly the most unfortunately named mushroom in the entire mushroom kingdom.  However, the benefits of this mushroom cannot be ignored; 6,000 years of use can’t be for nothing.  Recent studies have demonstrated that the Shiitake mushroom can assist in preventing cardiovascular diseases, improve functioning of the immune system and reduce cholesterol.  All of which are important for the hard training athlete that may not always watch their diet or get enough rest.  More importantly, there are a number of studies that demonstrate the anti-cancer properties of this mushroom4,5,6,7.

The Crimini Mushroom:

Mushrooms and Athletics - Strong-Athlete.com

Crimini mushrooms are a great source of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid).

The Crimini may sound like a mob family name, but it is a mushroom with some surprising health benefits for athletes and the general public alike.  First of all, the Crimini mushroom has been shown to be a significant source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) and vitamin B12.  CLA has been shown to have a myriad of health benefits but has been largely advertised as a weight loss supplement; however, there are other benefits.  One study showed that CLA may have anti-aromatase abilities; thereby reducing cancer cells ability to produce estrogen in breast cancer subjects8.  Another study demonstrated that it may be able to have a similar effect with prostate cancer subjects9.  In addition to all that, this mushroom has noted immune system and anti-inflammatory benefits.

The Bottom Line:

Mushrooms aren’t just a great topping for that pizza that you only eat for your cheat meal every Saturday night.  This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the research and breadth of different mushrooms out there that present a whole plethora of health/athletic benefits.  Many of the benefits can help out anyone; they are certainly things that athletes should not ignore.  You’ll have a hard time staying in the game if you are unfortunate enough to be stricken with any form of cancer, so take your nutrition seriously.


[1]. Zhu J-S, Rippe J. CordyMax enhances aerobic capability, endurance performance, and exercise metabolism in healthy, mid-age to elderly sedentary humans. Presented at the Annual Scientific Conference of the American Physiological Society (APS). Experimental Biology. 2004 April 17–21; Washington, DC.

[2] Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise– INCREASED AEROBIC CAPACITY IN HEALTHY ELDERLY HUMANS GIVEN A FERMENTATION PRODUCT OF CORDYCEPS Cs-4 — Xiao, Y.; Huang, X. Z.; Chen, G.; Wang, M. B.; Zhu, J. S.; Cooper, C. B. FACSM Peking Union Hospital and Beijing Hospital, Beijing, PR China; University of California, Los Angeles, CA
(Sponsor: C.B. Cooper, FACSM).

[3]Xiao Y , Huang X and Zhu J. (2008) Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers. Chin J Integr Med. 10:187-192.

[4]Kuvibidila S and French C. White button, shiitake, and portabella mushrooms inhibit the secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and the proliferation of the androgen dependent LNCap prostate cancer cell line. FASEB J, Apr 2011; 25: 979.11. 2011.

[5]Martin KR and Brophy SK. Commonly consumed and specialty dietary mushrooms reduce cellular proliferation in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2010 Nov 1;235(11):1306-14. Epub 2010 Oct 4. 2010.

[6]Yarnell E and Abascal K. Holistic Approaches to Prostate Cancer. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, Volume 14, Number 4 (August 2008), pp. 164-180. 2008.

[7]Chan GCF, Chan WK, and Sze DMY. The effects of -glucan on human immune and cancer cells. Journal of Hematology & Oncology 2009, 2:25 (10 June 2009). 2009.

[8]Chen S, Oh SR, Phung S et al. Anti-Aromatase Activity of Phytochemicals in White Button Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus). Cancer Res., Dec 2006; 66: 12026 – 12034. 2006.

[9]Grube BJ, Eng ET, Kao YC et al. White Button Mushroom Phytochemicals Inhibit Aromatase Activity and Breast Cancer Cell Proliferation. J. Nutr., Dec 2001; 131: 3288 – 3293. 2001.

Strong Athlete Contributor Jeff PearceJeff Pearce, Editor-In-Chief

Big Jeffrey Pearce, is a physical culture writer, editor, personal trainer, and a lifetime natural bodybuilder from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  He has been bodybuilding and strength training since he was 16 years old and remains a dedicated gym rat to this day. Big Jeff is one of the strongest athletes you will ever meet, routinely bench pressing 500lbs and tossing up 150lb dumbbells for reps in a typical workout. An honors graduate from the University of Toronto, Jeff’s brains also match his brawn. Jeff has a passion for writing and has been in featured in Muscular Development.  Jeff also coaches high school kids on the benefits of strength training and nutrition.


By |July 24th, 2012|Articles|

About the Author:

Strong Athlete was founded in 2011 by Strength & Conditioning Experts PK Mills and Gaétan Boutin. With over 40+ years of combined experience in sports nutrition, athletics, and fitness, the Strong Athlete team is dedicated to helping athletes achieve their maximum potential through a holistic approach to training, nutrition, and mindset.


  1. Anita Kus-Roberts August 3, 2012 at 9:40 AM - Reply

    I loved this Jeff – I’m a huge ‘shroom lover and make sure to incorporate them into at least one meal per day!

  2. Jeff Pearce August 10, 2012 at 6:47 AM - Reply

    Thanks so much, Anita!

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