Maca -- a root vegetable native to the Andes Mountains in South America -- has traditionally been used to enhance male and female sexual function, treat a variety of illnesses and ease depression. Available in the United States as a dietary supplement, maca is used by bodybuilders and other athletes who believe it can increase stamina and enhance athletic performance, as well as help reduce post-workout muscle soreness. Although human clinical studies are lacking, maca has shown beneficial properties in animal and test tube studies. Consult your doctor before trying maca to enhance your workouts.
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Maca -- botanically known as Lepidium meyenii and commonly called Peruvian ginseng and ayak chichira -- is a low-growing perennial plant grown in the Andes Mountain of Bolivia and Peru. The root -- called the hypocotl -- is highly nutritious and is employed both medicinally and for food; it is used to make porridge, puddings, coffee and a sweetened beverage called maca chichi. Traditionally used to treat anemia, sterility, impotence and menstrual problems, maca was so prized by the native Andean people that its consumption was limited to the upper classes. Maca is still used as an aphrodisiac and to enhance sexual performance; athletes utilize maca as an alternative to anabolic steroids to increase stamina and strength.
Constituents and Effects
Maca contains glucosinolates, organic compounds that are also found in broccoli and cabbage. Drugs.com -- which provides medically-reviewed information to consumers -- reports that the glucosinolates in maca have anticancer properties. Maca root also contains amino acids, protein, fiber, fatty acids and an assorted of beneficial trace minerals and vitamins. Drugs.com credits maca with potent antioxidant abilities, as well as the ability to decrease harmful LDL levels and trigylcerides. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reports that animal studies using maca showed increased libido and improved sperm production and motility, but notes that human studies are lacking.
Maca and Exercise
Maca contains protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals -- all nutrients that you need to fuel exercise. In addition, its antioxidant effects may help it prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness after a strenuous workout. According to Peak Performance, studies suggest that antioxidants enhance the adaptive response to exercise-induced muscle damage by increasing the number of immune cells responsible for muscle repair. Maca's purported mood-lifting effects may help provide increased motivation for exercising and working out. Finally, maca's high levels of calcium, magnesium and silica can promote bone health and possibly reduce chances of fractures, making it of particular interest to athletes.
Dosage and Precautions
Maca is available in powder, liquid, capsule and tablet form. The usual dosage is one 450-mg capsule of dried maca extract, taken three times a day with food. Drugs.com notes that there are no adverse reactions reported with maca; however, people with thyroid conditions -- as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding -- should not take maca. Consult your doctor before using maca to enhance your physical performance.