Chances are that when you’re perusing your local GNC that the polo-clad employees aren’t throwing out the name ashwagandha too often amongst the plethora of pre-workouts and mass builders that they are hyping. But maybe they should be.
With a name that sounds like a mythical land accessible via wardrobe only, ashwagandha might sound a little out there for most gym loyals. It is true that you’re more likely to see this supplement on the shelves of a naturopath or ayurvedic medicine practice, but the hippies might have gotten something right this time.
Ashwagandha (a.k.a. withania somnifera, Indian ginseng, winter cherry, dunal, or solanaceae) has been used for centuries for its restorative benefits according to The Chopra Center, one of the aforementioned hippie locales. Ashwagandha is sanskrit for “the smell of a horse” because of its distinct smell and the belief it would impart users with the strength of our equine friends–don’t worry, I’ve found no evidence that after using the product anyone smells any more horse-like than usual. Ayurvedic practitioners also believe that your new stallion qualities will even carry over to the bedroom.
So, that’s what the hippies say, but what do the scientists tell us? In a randomized, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, scientists tested the muscle building properties of the ashwagandha root. The study examined subjects who had little experience with resistance training and split them up into a group receiving 300 mg of ashwagandha root extract daily and a group receiving a placebo. After eight weeks of receiving the supplement and engaging in resistance training, the subjects were tested on a one rep max on bench press and a leg extension exercise in order to compare the results to their baseline. The ashwagandha group showed significant gains in muscle strength and size. The researchers also reported the ashwagandha group had “significantly greater reduction of exercise-induced muscle damage as indicated by the stabilization of serum creatine kinase” and “significantly greater increase in testosterone level” and a “significantly greater decrease in body fat percentage.”
The editors at Examine.com report that the supplement “provides neuroprotection, anti-cancer effects, enhanced virility, and can even stave off anxiety.” They also report the supplement’s ability to help lower cortisol levels, which if you know anything about that hormone’s effect on muscle building, is great news (check this article out for another way to lower your cortisol). Beyond this, Examine.com reports that ashwagandha root can improve physical performance in both athletes and sedentary people. I encourage all readers to head over to Examine.com and check out the human effect matrix for themselves
Examine does caution users that ashwagandha is not good to pair with JNK inhibitors or MAO inhibitors. They recommend a lowest effective dose of 300-500 mg with an optimal dose of 6,000 mg a day (good for you if you can afford to take that much a day). Take ashwagandha with a meal and if you’re only going to take it once a day as opposed to dividing it up throughout the day, take it with breakfast.
I might break some of your hearts, but there is much more research showing the performance enhancing qualities of ashwagandha than there is for BCAAs, and I know there are plenty of you spending your money on those each month. As with any supplement, consult your doctor and see if it’s right for you. If they give you the green light, give it a try and see how you feel. Ashwagandha could be what you needed to take you from foal to thoroughbred.