The Maca plant has been used in folk medicine for thousands of years to aid in sexual health, depression, and fertility.
Nowadays, it's gained traction in the supplement world for its benefits in athletic training and performance.
Keep reading to learn more about maca root and how it can improve your performance.
WHAT IS MACA ROOT?
Maca, scientifically known as Lepidium meyenii and commonly known as Peruvian ginseng, is a part of the Brassicaceae family along with:
- Brussels sprouts
Native to the central Andes between 4,000 and 4,500m altitude, the maca plant has been used for thousands of years for food as well as a dietary supplement and played a major role in the Incan diet.
Now, Maca is commonly used in:
- Baked Goods
- Dietary Supplements
- Sport Supplements
VARIETIES OF MACA ROOT
There are many different types of maca that range in colors from white to black, but we'll be taking a look at three significant varieties; red, yellow, and black.
Although the known superfood has many different qualities and benefits, these three take the cake and we'll explain why.
RED MACA ROOT
Red maca has a malty caramel taste and is commonly marketed towards women for its hormone-balancing properties.
However, red maca is so much more than hormones. An antioxidant power house, red maca also:
- Aids in muscle growth.
- Increases energy and stamina.
- Boosts mental functions and decreases feelings of depression.
- Supports bone health.
- Supports overall wellness and immunity.
YELLOW MACA ROOT
The most common type of maca and tangy to taste, yellow maca:
- Improves overall wellness and immunity.
- Boosts mood, cognitive functions, and improves focus.
- Balances hormones and reduces stress levels.
BLACK MACA ROOT
Black maca is the rarest of the three but holds the most antioxidant properties when compared to the other two.
Nutty in taste and commonly known as a "libido booster", black maca root also works to:
- Improves memory, focus, and mood.
- Helps to improve muscle growth, strength, and bone health.
- Strengthens the immune system to increase stamina and metabolism.
MACA ROOT NUTRITIONAL PROFILE
Many people consider maca root a superfood, and for a good reason:
Your body needs 20 amino acids for optimal function.
However, nine of these amino acids can’t be produced by the human body itself: methionine, threonine, tryptophan, valine, lysine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, histidine, and leucine. These amino acids must be acquired through diet or supplementation.
Maca root contains all the essential amino acids needed for healthy cellular function, except tryptophan. For a plant, this is pretty impressive since plant-based proteins rarely have all nine essential amino acids.
The table below shows the quantity of essential amino acids in 1000 mg of maca root powder.
ESSENTIAL AMINO ACID
Mg/ 1000mg PROTEIN
Digestion, immunity, sleep-wake cycles, and sexual health
Muscle metabolism and energy regulation
Muscle repair, blood sugar regulation, and protein synthesis
Protein, enzyme, and hormone synthesis as well as energy production
Metabolism, protein synthesis, and detoxification
Neurotransmission and protein and enzyme structure and function
Part of collagen and elastin; important role in immunity, fat metabolism, and exercise endurance
Energy production and muscle growth and regeneration
FREE FATTY ACIDS
The maca root also has about 20 free fatty acids that support cellular function. The most abundant are:
LINOLENIC ACID: A polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid. It’s ideal for boosting bone strength, cardiovascular health, immunity, reproduction, and brain function.
PALMITIC ACID: A saturated fatty acid. It modifies proteins and boosts energy storage and utilization. When consumed in moderate amounts, it can prevent metabolic syndrome like insulin resistance.
STERIC ACID: A saturated fatty acid. It enhances mitochondrial function, such as fat burning, and repairs damaged mitochondria. Studies are underway to establish whether steric acid can lower inflammation, facilitate insulin sensitivity, and slow down aging.
OTHER VITAL COMPONENTS
MACAENES AND MACAMIDES
These are bioactive substances unique to maca root. They are very effective against fatigue.
One study involving mice, indicated that macamides were very useful in combating exercise-induced fatigue.
Since there are no major differences between humans and mice when it comes to the effects of bioactive substances, humans can expect similar benefits.
These are bioactive compounds with suspected anti-cancer properties.
However, further research is needed to confirm this claim.
Plant sterols can lower bad cholesterol, including its production and blood levels. These sterols can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, obesity, and some cancers.
MACA ROOT POWDER BENEFITS
- Boosts Energy
- Improves Physical Performance
- Helps Build Muscle Mass
- Improves Bone Health
BOOSTS ENERGY LEVELS
Ancient Incan warriors use maca to increase their energy levels during times of war.
In present day, one study tested the effectiveness of maca on energy levels.
The study included 47 men and women who either took 2.1g of a maca supplements verse a placebo for 28 days.
Female participants reported improvements in fatigue after taking maca root. However, there were no significant differences with the placebo group.
Male participants who were given maca, on the other hand, showed significant improvements in fatigue and handgrip compared to the placebo group.
Although results are conflicting, it’s safe to say that maca supplements can improve strength and lessen fatigue in both men and women.
IMPROVES PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
There is every reason to believe that supplementing with maca root can boost your physical activities, including exercise routines.
For example, in a 2009 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, cyclists completed a 40 km trial before and after supplementing with either 2,000 mg per day of a maca extract (ME) or a placebo. The study was conducted over two weeks.
Results indicated significant improvements between the time taken to finish the 40 km before and after taking the supplement.
Although there were no significant differences between the treatment and placebo groups’ results, participants did report improved personal bests when they had taken maca root.
Therefore, athletes looking to improve their personal bests and up their endurance may consider taking a maca root supplement.
HELPS TO BUILD MUSCLE MASS
Currently, no study (to our knowledge) has investigated the impact of maca root on muscle mass.
However, it’s believed that testosterone plays a vital role in muscle protein synthesis, which leads to muscle mass. Additionally, leaner body weight is associated with better weight management and increased energy.
It’s important to note that testosterone in men starts decreasing at 30 years of age. As such, men aged 30 years and above might experience delays in building muscle mass even when exercising.
Testosterone treatment therapy can help by improving the amount of this hormone in the body. However, this approach is associated with risks that include infertility, prostate cancer, liver toxicity, and sleep apnea.
This is where maca root, which has a testosterone-like compound, comes in. Unlike pharmaceuticals, the testosterone-like influence of maca root doesn’t increase the amount of serum testosterone. This direct influence is what causes the adverse effects in testosterone treatment therapy.
Instead, it’s believed maca root acts on the testosterone receptor sites, thus increasing the body’s ability to use testosterone or gain testosterone-like benefits. This might explain why supplementing with maca root has not been linked to the drawbacks of testosterone treatment therapy.
Always combine maca root with a good workout routine, including strength training for maximum benefits.
IMPROVES BONE HEALTH
Estrogen and testosterone play a vital role in bone formation and health in both women and men. With age, though, the level of these hormones drops, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
However, treatment therapies can enhance bone health. Studies have shown that when female-to-male transgender patients received testosterone treatment therapy they experienced improved bone mineral density in the hip region.
Additionally, researchers from the University of Washington claim that while estrogen builds bone mass density, testosterone is quite effective in increasing the size and thickness of bones in men.
It’s important to note that pharmaceutical hormonal therapies come with adverse health conditions, including cancerous effects.
Therefore, athletes and bodybuilders seeking more natural ways to boost their bone health should consider supplements like maca root instead.
So far, the available evidence indicates that maca root has a testosterone-like influence on the body and can enhance estrogen and progesterone production in women without any known serious side effects.
This increase can promote bone health. However, further data on the prevention of osteoporosis is largely missing.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
HOW MUCH MACA ROOT SHOULD I TAKE DAILY?
In many studies, one dose of maca root powder is about 1.5 g per day. However, you can take more or less depending on several factors. For example, if you can combine it with other nutritionally rich compounds, there is no harm in taking lower amounts thanks to the complementary benefits of mixing supplements.
HOW TO USE MACA ROOT?
The list is almost endless.
It can be mixed with water, into smoothies, soups, sauces, oatmeal, or be used as a flavor enhancer.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF TAKING MACA ROOT?
Available research suggests that maca root is well tolerated and generally safe.
If you experience any side effects, consult a healthcare professional.
Additionally, please note that foods like cabbage and cauliflower are possible facilitators of thyroid problems. Because the maca plant is in the same family as cabbage and cauliflower, people with thyroid problems should consider seeking medical attention before and when supplementing with maca root.