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Ashwagandha for Athletic Performance

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Ashwa-what?

If you had to look that word over a few times, I’m right there with you. I’m someone whose first and only response to any common, nagging ailment is to throw back a few ibuprofen; thus, the world of more natural healthcare practices is a place in which I often get lost. After reading up on this herb, however, I’ll admit that especially as an athlete, I’m a bit embarrassed over my ignorance of its benefits.

Ashwagandha belongs to the traditional practice of Ayurvedic medicine, which has its roots in India. A nightshade, it is in the same family as other plants such as tomatoes, tobacco and bell peppers. Ashwagandha grows in the form of a shrub, and has branches which throughout the year will produce small flowers.

Ashwagandha is an apdapotgen–meaning it has the ability to help soothe the body’s response to stress. Thus, it is most often used to negate behavioral and digestive problems that may stem from long-lasting stressful periods. However, as discussed in an article from Examine.com, ashwagandha is also commonly administered as a supplemental treatment for cancer patients. More specifically, it is used to ease chemotherapy’s harsh side effects of fatigue and pain, as well as immunosuppression. Furthermore, the herb has been shown to possess anti-cancer capabilities in “cultured cancer cells and certain animal models.” Its ability to actually treat the disease in humans, however, remains unproven.

Athletic potential 

Yet another benefit of ashwagandha can be reaped in particular by athletes. Studies have shown the herb’s potential benefits to both anaerobic and aerobic exercise. Again on their information page, Natural Healthy Concepts cites a 2015 study conducted by researchers at several Indian universities, in which a test group of male subjects aged 18-50 were given “300 mg of ashwagandha root extract twice daily, while the control group consumed starch placebos.” Over a period of eight weeks, participants in both groups undertook the same regime of resistance training. At the end of the two months, researchers reported that the test group demonstrated “significantly greater increases in muscle strength on the bench press exercise […] and the leg extension exercise,” as well as markedly more muscle growth in the arms. Researchers also found participants in the experimental group suffered a far lower rate of exercise-related muscle injury.

Another study, conducted in 2012 by the Faculty of Sports Medicine and Physiotherapy at Guru Nanak Dev University, aimed to determine whether ashwagandha supplementation influenced the performance of elite Indian cyclists. Thus, the athletic focus of this particular trial had a much heavier cardiovascular focus than did the trial cited above. Forty athletes were chosen at random to participate, with twenty being given 500mg of ashwagandha root capsules twice daily for eight weeks, and the other twenty again being given starch placebos. Their aerobic capacity was tested via treadmill at the start and end of the trial period. At the end of the eight weeks, according to the report provided by NIH, “there was significant improvement in the experimental group in all parameters, namely, VO(2) max […] and time for exhaustion on treadmill.” The placebo group, in comparison, showed no significant benchmark improvement.

Worth noting here is that, as ashwagandha is an herb, it doesn’t carry the risks or dangers of more traditional steroid-based doping methods used to enhance athletic performance. If you’d like to give ashwagandha a try, it’s incredibly accessible. And, it’s available from an array of natural brands in easily-consumed capsule or liquid form.

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