Ashwagandha, an herb from India, has remarkable stress-relieving, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties. New studies also show relief for exercise induced muscle soreness comparable to those of pharmaceutical medications. As an athlete myself this is the one that has really gotten my attention.
Ashwagandha is a scrub plant and it grows primarily in parts of Asia, and in Indian Ayurvedic medicine it is called a rejuvenator. Ashwagandha is also known as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is usually an herb that functions as an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and a regulator of gene function. It has protective effects on the nervous system, and it’s been shown in many research studies to decrease the stress hormone cortisol, slight increase in testosterone, and also an improvement in cardiovascular performance. Now, in this brand new study on ashwagandha, what they looked at was the ability of ashwagandha to increase muscle strength, and also muscle recovery in response to a resistant training program.
In the group that used ashwagandha, they found a 15% increase in testosterone, a significant improvement in muscle recovery, over a 10-pound increase in leg extension strength, a 20 kilograms (42 pounds) increase in bench press, and also a significant increase in the production of lean muscle mass compared to the group that wasn’t using ashwagandha (they were using a placebo). In the sports world, creatine has the most credibility in the American Academy of Sports Medicine supplement stance papers, but ashwagandha might be something to consider.
And regarding how much you should take, most of the studies are using doses of about 500-1000 mg of ashwagandha. The best form of ashwagandha to take is called KSM-66. KSM-66 is the highest concentration full-spectrum extract on the market today, retaining all the natural constituents of the herb in the original balance, and importantly is organically certified. You can find a lot of different supplements that have this form KSM-66 form of ashwagandha in it. So, for example, I use Tianchi adaptogenic herbs which has KSM-66 ashwagandha in it. Many athletes also use Tianchi because it has an adequate dose of KSM-66.
Another thing worth mentioning is that you could use both creatine and ashwagandha together and don’t be surprised if there is some type of supplement containing both pops up soon. You just need to weigh the upside and downsides of using both, but it does seem reasonable.
Now let’s go over some of the potential downsides of this study. The gains found in this study were pretty noteworthy for any exercise program, supplemented or not. The study was done in India and nothing against studies performed in other countries, but they just don’t have the same IRB standards that many universities have here in the US or Europe. And this study would have been super easy to do in the US, so I hope someone does a follow-up study in the US or Europe. There were huge inter-group differences found for ALL of the measured variables: the size increases in the arms and chest, the change in body fat (only bio impedance values), serum testosterone and creatine kinase (CK) (not sure why they needed 20 mls of blood). CK is not a very reliable marker of exercise recovery. The strength increase on the bench press and leg extension machine differed significantly not just from pre- to post, but also from the supplement to the placebo group.
But let’s say the some of the improvements were a bit overestimated, it still might be worth considering to add as a supplement. Even if you could benefit from ¼ of these gains, that is still impressive.
The list of benefits is long and well detailed. Yet it’s best effect in the body, especially for athletes, is its amazing ability to restore the body’s own internal rhythm or homeostasis and allow for accelerated recovery and healing. As Jackson Brown used to sing “get up and do it again”!
So if you’re not already using ashwagandha, consider using it especially if you’re doing strength training, power training, muscle gain, etc. And finally remember that ashwagandha has many other benefits such as stress-relieving, antioxidant, anti-cancer properties, and some relief for exercise induced soreness.
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