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Ashwagandha: can it improve strength and body composition in resistance-trained men?

This study aimed to find out if the herb ashwagandha pairs well with resistance training in men.

Study under review: Effects of an aqueous extract of withania somnifera on strength training adaptations and recovery: the STAR trial

Introduction

Ashwagandha (also known as Withania somnifera, Indian ginseng, or winter cherry) is an Ayurvedic herb that belongs to the nightshade family. The name “ashwagandha” means “smell of horse,”[1] and refers to the herb’s distinct smell and traditional belief that taking the herb will bestow horse-like strength and virility.

Numerous studies have evaluated the medicinal properties of ashwagandha. For example, it has been investigated for its potential anti-inflammatory[2], anti-tumor[3], anxiolytic[4], antioxidant[5], neuroprotective[6], cardioprotective[7], and immunomodulatory[8] properties. Moreover, ashwagandha is a member of a family of herbs known as “adaptogens,”[9] which are stress response modifiers that help the body cope with both physical and mental stressors. Other common adaptogens include ginseng[10] and Rhodiola rosea[11].

Ashwagandha’s mechanisms of action are not well-understood, but its chemical composition has been extensively studied. Like with many plants, it is believed that ashwagandha’s bioactive compounds[12] may account for its physiological effects. These include alkaloids (isopelletierine and anaferine), steroidal lactones (withanolides and withaferins), and saponines.

Research has started to emerge investigating ashwagandha as a potential ergogenic aid on the basis of its adaptogenic properties and general purported beneficial effects on the body. Studies using daily doses of 500-1250 milligrams per day suggest that supplementation may have positive effects on endurance exercise performance[13], muscle strength[14], and body composition[15].

To date, only one study[15] (previously reviewed in Study Deep Dives #14, Volume 1) has examined ashwagandha’s effects in combination with resistance training. The purpose of the study under review was to examine the impact of ashwagandha on training adaptations in resistance-trained men.

Ashwagandha is a well-researched medicinal herb used extensively in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. Some research has suggested benefits on exercise performance and body composition, but studies in resistance-trained men are limited. The study under review aimed to add to the body of literature by examining the impact of ashwagandha supplementation on training adaptations in resistance-trained men.

Who and what was studied?

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Other Articles in Issue #50 (December 2018)