Balancing a life based around athletics as an adult has its challenges. Gone are the days of having someone else cook your meals, drive you to and from your practices, and generally care for you so you can focus on your sport. As an adult athlete we have to find a way to get our work, school, training, family and recovery all in during any given week.
Pushing the envelope like this on a weekly basis is sure to leave us deficient in some areas, physically and mentally. It’s not long before most of us need to taper off for a week or two to give ourselves a chance at recovering.
Traditional Chinese Herbology was way ahead of the curve a thousand years ago with its creation of the classic herbal formula – The Four Gentlemen. This formula, consisting of four powerful herbs, is designed to counteract the physical and emotional effect of this busy lifestyle and high metabolic demand.
Per Bensky stated in Chinese Herbal Medicine Formulas and Strategies, “In traditional Chinese culture it was common to refer to four important things that were harmonious as a group and not given to extremes as ‘the four gentlemen’ or the ‘four noblemen’ after the Confucian term for a person who exhibits ideal behavior. The four herbs in this formula are mild in nature and blend well together in tonifying the qi. They are therefore called ‘the four gentlemen’ of herbal medicine.”
The Four Gentlemen (Si Jun Zi Tang) is made up of the following herbs:
- Ren Shen (Ginseng)
- Bai Zhu (Atractylodis)
- Fu Ling (Poriae)
- Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Ginseng)
Before breaking down the individual herbs and how they compliment each other, we need to have a basic understanding of the Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM) view of the spleen and spleen qi. In TCM your “spleen system” (most likely the responsibility of our pancreas today) is responsible for taking food and air we’ve ingested and transforming these products into usable substances to fuel our bodies and minds.
When there is a lack of spleen qi, or energy in the spleen, then this transformation doesn’t take place as efficiently as it should and we’re left without as much daily energy as we’d like. This often manifests in people as a feeling of heaviness or lethargy and is often described as “feeling foggy.” The analogy is correct as a deficient spleen that is not transforming food and air efficiently will leave us with higher levels of dampness or phlegm in our body, thus weighing us down.
The first of the Four Gentlemen, Ren Shen is known in both TCM and western herbology as a powerful energy enhancing herb. In TCM, Ren Shen is well known for its ability to tonify the qi of the spleen, enhance lung capacity in addition to balancing out hormones.
The second herb in the formula is called Bai Zhu in Chinese or Rhizoma Atractylodis in western herbology. Bai Zhu is also a powerful qi tonic but has the added ability of helping our bodies transform fluids in our body. Remember that feeling of heaviness? Bai Zhu’s main job in this formula is to help relieve that symptom directly while also supporting our energy levels.
The third herb in the formula is Fu Ling or Sclerotium Poriae and is a naturally occurring fungus. Fu Ling is used to induce diuresis, excreting dampness from body, supporting the spleen and also, as an added effect has a calming effect on the mind.
Zhi Gan Cao
Lastly, the formula is brought together with Zhi Gan Cao or honey sweetened licorice. Zhi Gan Cao serves multiple purposes here, one as an added tonic for our energy system as well as gently counteracting any overdrying that the Bai Zhu and Fu Ling may bring on.
The Four Gentlemen Formula has been used for thousands of years to not only support athletes and people with high output lifestyles, but also can be useful for other syndromes such as chronic gastritis, diabetes mellitus, and uterine fibroids. Contraindications include dryness, excessive thirst and constipation. As always, it is best to consult a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist before consuming herbal formulas.