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Should You Take Ashwagandha For Muscle Growth And Bodybuilding?

There is some great research now showing that Ashwagandha has the potential to produce some serious improvements in muscle and strength gains.

More than 300 studies currently indicate its ability to help improve performance and general health, with minimal side effects for most people.

As a result, bodybuilders in particular are now showing some serious interest in supplementing with ashwagandha.

Throughout my 35-year career as a gym owner and personal trainer, I’ve experimented with dozens of supposed herbal performance boosters. Few of them have lived up to the media hype. Ashwagandha is one of the few that has in my opinion.

In this article, I’ll delve into the most relevant research relating to ashwagandha's ability to improve muscle and strength gains. I’ll then lay out the ideal dosage for best results.

CONTENTS:

  1. What is Ashwagandha?
  2. Ashwagandha May Help Reduce Cortisol Levels
  3. Ashwagandha Can Help Improve Muscle and Strength Levels
  4. General Health Benefits of Ashwagandha
  5. Ashwagandha and VO2 Max
  6. Is It Safe to Take Ashwagandha?
  7. How to Take Ashwagandha For Muscle Growth
  8. Summary
how to take ashwagandha for muscle growth

What is Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha is a popular adaptogen with thousands of years of history in ayurvedic medicine.

Adaptogens are herbal compounds that increase the body’s ability to adapt to stressful situations. They have been used in India to increase vitality and promote youthfulness for thousands of years.

The word Ashwagandha means ‘smell of a horse’. This relates to both the smell of the plant and the supposed horse-like strength that it is claimed to produce.

The four main ancient benefits of ashwagandha that it has historically been used for are to help:

  • Relieve anxiety
  • Offset fatigue
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve sexual performance in men

Ashwagandha has also been shown to potentially help improve endocrine functioning. In men, it does this by helping to balance out the functioning of the adrenal glands and testes.

Many studies show Ashwagandha also helps to support the immune system.

ashwagandha and testosterone

Ashwagandha May Help Reduce Cortisol Levels

In times of anxiety, your body increases its production of the hormone cortisol.

This is a catabolic hormone that can eat away at the body’s muscle tissue if it’s chronic. As a result, bodybuilders should keep their cortisol levels as low as possible.

A 2009 study looked at the ability of ashwagandha to reduce anxiety levels.

It was found that the study group that took ashwagandha significantly decreased their anxiety levels in comparison to a control group. As a result, they had much lower cortisol levels.

The dosage taken by the Ashwagandha was 300 mg per day. No side effects were experienced by any study participants at this dosage.

ashwagandha can help reduce cortisol

Ashwagandha Can Help Improve Muscle and Strength Levels

Many people are interested in bulking without gaining fat.

And it’s been proven that ashwagandha can help with this.

Other studies have looked more directly at Ashwagandha’s ability to build muscle and improve strength. A 2015 study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, looked at 57 men between the ages of 18 and 50.

The study participants were not experienced weight trainers. They were divided into two groups, one of which took 300 mg of sashwangandha daily while the other took a placebo. Both groups followed the same 8-week resistance training program.

At the end of 8 weeks, both groups were tested for increases in muscle strength, muscle size and testosterone level increases.

Ashwagandha Increases Muscle Strength

Significant increases in size and strength were experienced by those who took Ashwagandha. Other factors such as what you eat and how you exercise are also important, but Ashwagandha can help.

Improvements in the bench press and leg extension strength were higher than those experienced by a control group. The average bench press increase was 138 percent in the Ashwagandha group, compared with 84 percent in the control group.

A 2012 study focused on strength increases from Ashwagandha supplementation. Eighteen men were given increasing levels of Ashwagandha on the following timetable …

  • On days 1-10, they were given 750 mg daily
  • On days 11-20, they were given 1000 mg daily
  • On days 21-30, they were given 1250 mg daily

The men did not do any resistance training during the month of the trial. Yet, at the end of the 30 days, their grip strength had increased by an average of 8 percent, with a 21 percent quad strength improvement and a 15 percent increase in back extensor force.

ashwagandha and testosterone

Ashwagandha Increases Muscle Size

The Ashwagandha group in the 2015 study had 30 percent greater gains in chest size and 57 percent more upper arm circumference improvement. Furthermore, they lost more than double the amount of body fat (3.4 percent compared to 1.5 percent).

Ashwagandha Increases Testosterone Levels

A 2010 study looked at Ashwagandha’s ability to increase testosterone levels. In this study, 75 infertile men were given 3 grams of Ashwagandha root extract for three months. Testosterone levels increased by between 14 and 41 percent.

Another study paired Ashwagandha supplementation with resistance training. Test subjects, who were intermediate-level lifters, were given 300 mg of Ashwagandha root extract and put on an 8-week training program. A placebo group was given the same program but without the Ashwagandha.

The average increase in testosterone level in the Ashwagandha group was 15.25 percent. This compared with 2.6 percent in the placebo group.

These are just a sampling of the studies conducted over the last decade. They show that ashwagandha can do the following …

  • Reduce cortisol levels
  • Increase testosterone levels
  • Increase strength
  • Contribute to muscle gain
  • Boost strength levels
ashwagandha for muscle growth

General Health Benefits of Ashwagandha

In addition to its proven muscle-building properties, there are also many other ashwagandha health benefits and uses.

It has been shown to help bring down low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. This is the bad type of cholesterol that causes a fatty build-up in the arteries.

Ashwagandha has also been shown to contribute to lowered blood pressure and reduction in triglyceride levels. In these ways, this adaptogen contributes to heart health and cardiovascular efficiency.

As well as reducing stress levels, ashwagandha may also actively contribute to brain health. Studies have shown that it may be able to help reduce a person’s likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative brain disorders.

Supplementing with ashwagandha has also been indicated to help increase hemoglobin levels. This improves the body’s ability to transport oxygen to the cells of the body. More oxygen means more energy.

Ashwagandha is very high in antioxidants. This makes it a powerful immunity booster. It will also help the body fight free radical molecule damage that is caused by oxidative stress.

Ashwagandha and VO2 Max

Your VO2 Max is the maximum ability of your heart and lungs to make use of oxygen during exercise. The higher it is, the longer you will be able to keep going.

Ashwagandha has been shown to significantly improve VO2 Max. In a study involving cyclists, 20 subjects were given two daily doses of 500 mg of ashwagandha while another 20 were given a placebo pill. After eight weeks, the VO2 Max of each participant was measured.

The ashwagandha group’s average improvement in VO2 Max, respiratory exchange ratio, and metabolic equivalent were all significantly higher than the placebo group.

You can find out what a good VO2 max is for men and women here.

ashwagandha and testosterone

Is It Safe to Take Ashwagandha?

Ashwagandha, like most supplements and herbs, can cause side effects in rare cases.

Being a member of the nightshade family means anyone with a nightshade allergy should avoid it. Common symptoms of nightshade allergies include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

If you do experience anything like this then it’s wise to take a break from ashwagandha and look for another supplement that can help with your ailments.

Ashwagandha has been shown to lower blood glucose levels. This may cause the blood sugar levels of diabetics to drop to dangerous levels. If you are diabetic, consult your doctor before taking an ashwagandha supplement.

Another positive effect of ashwagandha is that it can reduce blood pressure levels. People who already have low levels should monitor their levels so that they do not fall to dangerous levels.

There are very high iron levels in ashwagandha. People who produce excess iron should not take this herb.

This adaptogen also stimulates the thyroid gland. People who suffer from an overactive thyroid should, therefore, avoid it.

There have been no studies done on the effects of ashwagandha supplementation on pregnant women.

Even if you aren’t in a high-risk category to experience ashwagandha side effects - you should always speak to a medical practitioner or GP before taking it.

how to take ashwagandha for uscle growth

How to Take Ashwagandha For Muscle Growth

Ashwagandha is usually sold in powder form. In the east, it is typically mixed with honey or milk. In the west, it is more often put in capsule form. That’s because the taste is usually too bitter for the western palate.

The hundreds of ashwagandha studies completed so far have studied a range of doses and there are no official dosage guidelines established anywhere.

After studying a raft of studies, the best results in terms of muscle gain and strength increases appear to come from a dosage of 6000 mg daily.

This is considerably higher than if you were taking it purely for general health benefits. If you do choose to take a dose like this - be sure to consult a medical practitioner first, and slowly work your way up to it to make sure you don’t experience any side effects.

If you do decide to dose this way - the 6000 mg daily dosage should be split in two. Each dose should be taken with food.

The beneficial effects of ashwagandha will not happen overnight. You need to build up the body’s supply of this adaptogen. You should, therefore, take the supplement every day. This includes the days that you are not working out.

The timing in relation to your workout is not an important factor. So, you don’t have to worry about taking it within an hour of your training. Simply take it twice daily with food as convenient.

ashwagandha and testosterone

Summary

Ashwagandha is a proven muscle and strength builder that will benefit bodybuilders. It has been shown in many recent studies to:

  • Reduce levels of the catabolic hormone cortisol
  • Increase testosterone levels
  • Improve muscle-building potential
  • Boost strength levels
  • Offset workout fatigue

If you want to see strength and size gains - build up to taking 6,000 mg of ashwagandha split into two doses. Combine your supplementation with a good diet and a hard and consistent weight lifting routine and you will experience significant muscle and strength gains.

Check out this great video breakdown below if you want to dive further into the world of ashwagandha use for strength and muscle growth

Research

  1. Cooley K, Szczurko O, Perri D, Mills EJ, Bernhardt B, Zhou Q, Seely D. Naturopathic care for anxiety: a randomized controlled trial ISRCTN78958974. PLoS One. 2009 Aug 31;4(8):e6628. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006628. PMID: 19718255; PMCID: PMC2729375.
  2. 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. PMID: 26609282; PMCID: PMC4658772.
  3. Ahmad MK, Mahdi AA, Shukla KK, Islam N, Rajender S, Madhukar D, Shankhwar SN, Ahmad S. Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Fertil Steril. 2010 Aug;94(3):989-96. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.04.046. Epub 2009 Jun 6. PMID: 19501822.
  4. Raut AA, Rege NN, Tadvi FM, Solanki PV, Kene KR, Shirolkar SG, Pandey SN, Vaidya RA, Vaidya AB. Exploratory study to evaluate tolerability, safety, and activity of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in healthy volunteers. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2012 Jul;3(3):111-4. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.100168. PMID: 23125505; PMCID: PMC3487234.
  5. 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;12:43. Published 2015 Nov 25. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9

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