Many of us reach for a coffee first thing in the morning, as the caffeine gives us a much-needed jolt. But after a while your body grows weary of one cup and demands two… then three. If you’re struggling to navigate this increasingly treacherous coffee rapid, you may want to try maca powder instead. At this point you probably have some questions, such as…
What is maca powder?
Maca (lepidium meyenii), also known as Peruvian ginseng, is a popular herb in South America, where it’s regarded as an all-round energy tonic. It’s a member of the cruciferous family, with radish-like tuberous roots that have numerous health benefits. Maca has been used medicinally for centuries in South America as an adaptogen, meaning it can help you adjust to stress, build up resistance to disease and support immunity. This makes maca particularly useful for runners, as it supports the adrenal glands, balances hormones and boosts energy levels.
What’s in it?
Maca powder is packed with nutrients. These include magnesium and iron, as well as vitamin C and plenty of energising B vitamins (B1, B2, B6 and B12). It contains around 60 per cent carbohydrates, 10 per cent protein, 8.5 per cent fibre and 2.2 per cent fats, including healthy fatty acids. The powder comes from a root vegetable and traditional preparation includes drying it and crushing it to powder form. It’s also available as a supplement from health food shops.
What does maca powder do?
Maca seems to work directly on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which are the ‘master glands’ of the body. They regulate the other glands, so when imbalances occur they can restore stability to the adrenal, thyroid, pancreas and ovarian glands.
One of the reasons maca powder may be so useful for runners is that it has the beneficial power of rejuvenating exhausted adrenal glands, which helps the body handle stressful situations. Several studies have shown that maca can reduce the effects of stress, helping the body adapt and become more resilient. Maca powder also helps balance blood glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity. When blood sugar levels remain more stable you are less likely to have energy dips or cravings.
Maca has an energising effect without being overstimulating. This makes it beneficial for endurance running and maintaining mental focus. It can also be helpful before events, especially if you get anxious before a race. So if you’re finding running hard work at the moment or you are just about to increase your mileage, a spoonful of maca powder every morning may be a great addition to your breakfast.
Maca also appears to help balance sex hormone levels. It may bring relief to PMS sufferers and improve libido and sexual function. A 2008 study published in the journal Menopause found supplementation with maca for six weeks reduced depression, anxiety and sexual dysfunction in menopausal women. It may also help alleviate menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.
How do I use it?
Maca has a light, nutty flavour so it can be added to a morning shake or smoothie. You can also stir it into yoghurt, porridge or your morning cereal for a pick-me-up. Try adding a spoonful of maca powder to hot dishes, such as soups or curries, at the end of cooking. Being mild in flavour, it makes a great addition to raw protein bars, cakes and biscuits, as well as homemade ice cream or puddings. Try this delicious recipe:
Maca powder chocolate fudge
Makes about 20 pieces
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tbsp maca powder
200g dark chocolate drops
75g light tahini
150g pitted soft dates
- In a high-speed blender or food processor, grind up the nuts until they’re very fine. Place in a bowl with the cinnamon and maca powder.
- Put the chocolate in a pan with the tahini and melt over a low heat.
- Place the dates in a blender with the melted chocolate and process to form a stiff paste.
- Add the paste to the ground nuts and combine thoroughly, using your hands to make sure it is completely mixed. It should form a soft dough.
- Place the mixture into a lined 20cm/eight-inch, shallow, square tin and press down firmly.
- Chill for three or four hours until hard. Cut into chunks to serve.