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Lion’s Mane: Unlocking the Mind to Muscle Connection

What is lion’s mane?

By Megan Elizabeth Clark

Megan Elizabeth Clark

What is lion’s mane?

A favorite of the MUD\WTR team, lion’s mane, also known as hou tou gu, yamabushitake, or its Latin name Hericium erinaceus (or as we like to call it, the “mop dog” of the mushroom family), is a treasured delicacy of many Asian countries including China, India, Japan, and Korea [7] [10]. With its long shaggy-like look the mushroom got its name for resembling a lion’s mane, but also tends to resemble a Komondor dog in desperate need of grooming.

Aside from its distinguishing features, the mushroom is growing in popularity in Western countries as we continue to explore its health benefits. A key ingredient in our mud recipe, the mushroom’s health benefits are numerous. Benefits include reduced inflammation, improved nervous system recovery, boosted immune system benefits, and reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes [7] [10]. 

When it comes to the mind-body connection the benefits of lion’s mane are proving beneficial in the gym as well as in everyday life. The main benefits of lion’s mane for improved physical function include:

  • Boosting mental/cognitive functioning and memory [8]
  • Reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety [2] [3]
  • Increasing muscular endurance and reducing fatigue [9]

While research continues to come out on the science behind the benefit, the early results are proving that lion’s mane can deepen the mind to muscle connection and improve the function of your body during physical fitness and performance. While some Eastern countries have understood for centuries the medicinal power and benefits of lion’s mane and other fungi, in the U.S. we are just starting to tap into the power behind what we might not fully understand. 

Whether you consider yourself an athlete or just a regular gym-goer, the benefits of lion’s mane are promising for improving your mental and physical performance.

The role of mental performance in physical training

Before we dive into the benefits, it’s important to understand why the mind-body connection is so vital when it comes to physical fitness. While we often associate working out or physical fitness with the capabilities of our physical body, the mind also plays a huge role in defining those capabilities and limitations. As Alex Hutchinson in “Endure” powerfully states, “The body sets the limits, and the brain dictates how close you get to those boundaries.”

While still controversial on how much of a role the brain plays in your physical functioning, it’s undeniable that the brain plays a role when it comes to your limits of physical endurance and capability [11].

This means that your success at the gym is not only a result of your physical ability but also your mental ability. This includes the ability to focus and concentrate on your goals, to envision and believe in success for yourself, and to push beyond what you believe yourself capable of. 

We talk a lot about this mind, body, soul connection at MUD\WTR because we believe the power behind the mushroom isn’t just about boosting physical health but triggering something deeper in the mind.

Can a mushroom give you that magical ability to believe and achieve all your hopes and dreams? We like to think so but we know it isn’t that simple. While lion’s mane isn’t the magical formula for success, what we, and every athlete and gym-goer, can agree on is that any support is helpful in reaching your fitness goals.

Boosting mental/cognitive functioning and memory

One of the big benefits of lion’s mane is improved mental and cognitive functioning [8]. While more research is still needed to further investigate these benefits, early results show that lion’s mane can improve cognitive function through better focus, concentration, and memory. This could be in part from the lion's mane’s ability to improve the development and function of nerves [12]. By protecting nerves from damage, this can help prevent conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, which affect memory loss [13]. 

In studies done on 50-80-year old Japanese men and women who have mild cognitive impairment, the group taking lion’s mane showed increased cognitive function compared with those who did not eat the mushroom [8]. When it comes to studies done on mice, the results are similar. In one study, mice that had consumed lion’s mane saw improved memory function [1] [13]. 

Improved cognitive functioning has a direct impact on your physical performance. With increased focus, concentration, and memory your workouts are more fine-tuned to your needs, your time is spent more productively, and your brain is pushing you forward as opposed to holding you back. It's no surprise that your workouts will lead to greater benefits when your brain is more focused, concentrated, and active.

Reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety

Further studies on mice also found that lion’s mane can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression through its anti-inflammatory effects [5] [6]. Other animal studies have found that lion’s mane can also improve the functioning of the hippocampus, the part of our brain associated with learning and emotions [4]. Studies on humans, specifically menopausal women, found that those who ate lion’s mane daily felt less irritated and anxious [3].

Like every benefit discussed, there is always more room for further exploration and study to better understand exactly what kind of benefits we would see across a range of diverse individuals. But based on what we know so far, lion’s mane continues to provide potential benefits for the improvement of the mind-body connection. 

When your brain can better manage mild symptoms of depression and anxiety, this can lead to greater feelings of self-worth, confidence, and inner calm. This allows for better brain performance both in and outside of the gym.

Increasing muscular endurance and reducing fatigue

As previously mentioned, your brain plays a huge role in setting your limitations for exercise. This is because your brain is a supercomputer that takes in data from all parts of your body, including your muscles, to know when it’s time to stop or slow down. This kind of communication between mind and body is vital to ensure you don’t push yourself to injury or exhaustion. Studies with lion’s mane show us though that your limits can be pushed through increased muscular endurance and glycogen storage [9]. 

In a study done with mice, those with a diet of lion’s mane had increased muscular endurance and reduced fatigue compared to those that did not consume lion’s mane [9]. The study also demonstrated that the mice that had a diet of lion’s mane improved their tissue glycogen levels, which store energy for the body when needed during any form of exercise.

The endurance benefits of lion’s mane prove that although the brain is powerful, your inner computer can sometimes get in the way of maximizing your physical performance. While you can thank your brain for stopping you before you burn your muscles to the ground, the limits your brain sets for yourself are not always accurate to what you are capable of achieving. With a little help from our mushroom friends, you can give a little bit more to that workout and push the limits of what you (or your brain) originally thought possible. 

The takeaway

In summary, you should be just as hyped about lion’s mane as we are. The benefits could be that extra boost you need in your workout (or your everyday life) to improve your cognitive function, to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and to increase your muscular endurance.

As lion’s mane helps you better connect mind to body, it also allows you to understand your physical and mental limits at the gym and where you can make changes to push yourself beyond what you thought possible. 

While lion’s mane can be a helpful supplement to improving your exercise limits, there are also other ways to understand the body and mind connection that don’t involve mushrooms. For example, have you ever found yourself running faster in the company of another runner? Or capable of doing more pushups when you’ve had a good day versus a bad one? Or biking farther than you ever had before after you miscalculated the mileage? 

If your limits were truly your limits, then it wouldn’t be possible for you to perform better in any of these circumstances. Whether it be through mushrooms or training your brain through experience, there is a lot of power in the mind-body connection and the role that your perceived limits play in the execution of your physical performance. 

By: Megan Elizabeth Clark

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