Body builders and those interested in keeping their bodies tuned often reach for supplements with dubious ingredients. Certainly not all, but some of these can stress the body in different ways. One of these stresses is an overloading of chemicals and amino acids onto the body, which can stress the liver. The liver needs to process all of these chemicals. If they are foreign to the body, the immune system must kick in and break them down.
Thus we find that many body building supplements that claim to boost muscle size and testosterone levels can have a harmful effect upon the body. Some can contain ingredients that can race the heart and combine to cause cardiovascular concerns.
Is Ashwagandha a body-building supplement?
In an article published a couple of years ago, I listed more than fifty medical conditions that Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) can be used for. As we are constantly updating my articles with new research, we will be adding a newly-found effect of Ashwagandha soon: The ability to boost muscle size and increase testosterone levels.
Ashwagandha boosts muscle strength
Ayurvedic medicine texts suggest that Ashwagandha encourages bala – which means strength. Does modern research back up this claim?
Clinical research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition says yes. The study tested 57 men between 18 and 50 years old. They were not involved in any weight lifting training prior to the study. The men were divided into two groups. One group of 29 men was given 300 milligrams of an Ashwagandha extract twice a day for eight weeks (600 milligrams per day).
The other group was given a placebo for the same period. Both groups underwent a supervised muscle training program for the two months.
Before and after the study, the researchers tested the subjects for muscle strength using the bench press and leg extension workouts. They also measured muscle size, fat composition and muscle recovery.
They measured muscle recovery levels by testing blood levels of creatine kinase. This is a marker for muscle injury – which increases after strenuous workouts.
The subjects were measured prior to and after the two months of Withania supplementation.
The research found that those who took the Ashwagandha were significantly stronger after the eight weeks. The Ashwagandha group bench-pressed an average of 46 kilos (101 lbs) while the placebo group benched an average of 25 kilos (55 lbs).
The Ashwagandha group lifted an average of 14.5 kilos on the leg extensions, and the placebo group lifted an average of 9.8 kilos.
Withania somnifera boosts muscle size
The Withania group’s average muscle size was also significantly larger than the placebo group. The Ashwagandha group’s average arm muscle size was 8.6 centimeters, while the placebo group’s was a measly 5.3 cm. Meanwhile, the Ashwagandha group’s chest muscle size average was 3.3 cm while the placebo group’s was 1.4 cm.
Ashwagandha helps reduce muscle damage
Any weight training regimen that builds muscle strength will cause damage to the muscle fibers. These slight tears must be healed by the body. The quicker the better.
The Ashwagandha group also had a greater reduction of muscle damage resulting from their workouts. This again was seen in creatine kinase reductions. The Ashwagandha group had reductions of 1462 U/L following their workouts, while the placebo group’s reduction was 1307 U/L.
This means that the Withania group healed faster than the placebo group after their workouts.
Ashwagandha reduces body fat levels
The researchers also found that the Ashwagandha group’s body fat percentage was significantly less than the placebo group. Their body fat level decreased by 3.5 percent, while the body fat levels of the placebo group went down by 1.5 percent.
Ashwagandha increases testosterone levels
The researchers also found that after the eight weeks, the Withania group had significantly higher levels of blood testosterone than the placebo group. The Ashwagandha group’s testosterone levels were 96.2 ng/dL while the placebo group was 18 ng/dL. This is a significant difference.
Ashwagandha boosts testosterone in other research
This is not the first study that has shown that Ashwagandha boosts testosterone. In a study published in 2013, researchers tested 46 men. About half the men were given 675 milligrams of Ashwagandha extract per day for three months. The other half was given a placebo.
After the 90 days, the Withania group had 17 percent higher testosterone levels compared to the placebo group. (They also had 53 percent higher sperm counts compared to the placebo group.)
In a study published in 2009, researchers found that Ashwagandha contained a set of steroidal chemicals. These are called withanolides. They contain several steroidal lactone triterpenoids.
Body building, testosterone and health
Research clearly shows that bodybuilding can be a healthy form of exercise – one that can be supplemented with healthy products that aid muscle strength and recovery.
The bonus round here is that testosterone levels can be boosted. Testosterone levels will often go down as men and women age. This can reduce immune system strength and slow recovery. It can also increase the risk of hair loss, enlarged prostate and other conditions.
Increasing testosterone levels doesn’t require pharmaceuticals that can upset our body’s natural balance. Certainly, weightlifting can also lift natural testosterone levels to some degree. But as this research shows, adding Ashwagandha to a weight training regimen can significantly boost testosterone levels to new heights.
One doesn’t have to become a bodybuilder to take advantage of this effect. Adding some weight lifting or resistance workouts to our regimen is easy. Remember that pushups and pull-ups are considered weight lifting, so a gym isn’t even necessary.
Organic Ashwagandha extract
Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, Sinha SR, Bhattacharyya S. Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Nov 25;12:43. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9.
Ambiye VR, Langade D, Dongre S, Aptikar P, Kulkarni M, Dongre A. Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:571420. doi: 10.1155/2013/571420.
Mirjalili MH, Moyano E, Bonfill M, Cusido RM, Palazón J. Steroidal lactones from Withania somnifera, an ancient plant for novel medicine. Molecules. 2009 Jul 3;14(7):2373-93. doi: 10.3390/molecules14072373.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.