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Withania somnifera, commonly known as ashwagandha, is a powerful herb that’s been used for centuries in Ayurveda - traditional Indian medicine - to build strength, stamina and combat fatigue. Ashwagandha is classified as an adaptagen herb, which helps the body maintain normal physiological function during times of physical or mental stress, builds resistance to future stressors, and promoter superior vitality and energy.1 Popularly known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha has a vast array of pharmacological benefits; relaxing a stressed nervous system, lowering blood pressure, supporting superior immunity, reducing inflammation, promoting deep sleep, keeping your memory sharp and acts as an antioxidant.(2)
The question is, if you’re training hard in the gym and looking to add lean muscle can the ancestral benefits of ashwagandha help you build more muscle? Or is this yet another example of exaggerated folklore?
A recent study investigated the benefits of ashwagandha supplementation on 57 adult men, aged 18-50, to see if this “wonder herb” really has what it takes to make you stronger. After eight weeks of training, the ashwagandha group showed significantly greater increases in strength, in a one-repetition maximum for bench press and leg-extension compared to the placebo group (see Figure 1).(3) They also experienced greater muscle hypertrophy in the upper-body (not lower-body) as well as seeing superior improvements in body-composition.(3) (Bigger, stronger AND leaner… Not a bad combination!) The benefits didn’t stop there. The group supplementing with ashwagandha also displayed lower levels of muscular damage, suggesting faster recovery after training, as well as greater testosterone levels.(3) Faster recovery means an increased ability to ramp up training frequency, a great recipe for getting bigger and stronger. Furthermore, intense training tends to lower testosterone levels, making this adaptagen herb a great choice during peaking training phases.
Figure 1 -
If you’re a regular gym-goer or advanced trainee, the added support from adaptagen herb ashwagandha may help get stronger, accelerate recovery and keep your anabolic hormone testosterone in balance. Try adding 300mg of ashwagandha, twice daily for 4 to 8 weeks. If you’re a new trainee and hypertrophy is your goal, remember that achieving your ideal daily protein intake and total caloric intake is absolutely crucial to your success and should be your first priority, before adding the “bells and whistles” of supportive herbs.
It can be difficult to fit all your training into a busy schedule when striving for hypertrophy and lean muscle gains. Ashwagandha doesn’t just help you build muscle and recovery more quickly, but offers added benefits of building a better brain and overall health to offset the stressors of busy workdays, constant connectivity and lack of sleep. This ancestral herb does indeed pack a powerful punch.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
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1) Abascal K, Yarnell E. Increasing vitality with adaptogens: multifaceted herbs for treating physical and mental stress. Altern Complement Ther. 2003;9:54–60.
2) Mishra LC, Singh BB, Dagenais S. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Alternative Medicine Review. 2000;5:334–46
3) Wankhede S. et al.Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2015) 12:43.