Ashwagandha is a medicinal herb. It is an adaptogenic herb, which means that it can help the body with stress management.
Ashwagandha provides the brain and body with many benefits.
For instance, it lowers blood sugar levels, blood cortisol levels, and improves brain function. Also, it helps to fight off depression and anxiety.
A loose translation of ashwagandha is "the smell and strength of a horse". This refers to the belief that consuming ashwagandha gives the virility and strength of a stallion and alludes to its traditional use to support a healthy sex drive.
But the health benefits of ashwagandha isn't folklore. Over 300 studies published in reputable journals have attested to the fact that ashwagandha is unique with important benefits to athletic performance and muscle building.
SO HOW DOES ASHWAGANDHA HELP WITH MUSCLE BUILDING AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE?
It lowers cortisol levels
Cortisol is released by your body in times of emotional or physical stress. It is a steroid hormone. Cortisol mobilizes energy stores in muscle tissue. This means that it is a catabolic hormone.
The higher the level of cortisol in your blood, the less your body can remain in its anabolic state (which is required for muscle building). Thus, Ashwagandha has this unique ability to lower the level of cortisol in the body.
In a particular study  involving 41 male subjects and 22 females, all with a history of chronic stress, all subjects assigned randomly into groups, with one receiving 600mg of ashwagandha root extract daily, and the other placebo, it was discovered that after 60 days of administration, the ashwagandha group had lower cortisol levels, compared to the placebo.
Cortisol and testosterone have inverse relationships with each other. This means that as cortisol levels increase, that of testosterone decreases, and vice versa. So, ashwagandha downplays this effect by boosting testosterone production.
Ashwagandha and testosterone
It is a known fact that testosterone is the major driver of muscle growth. If you have a lot of testosterone in your body, your muscles will be able to recover quickly, and so they grow faster as a result. This means that testosterone is very important for those wishing to grow muscles, and of course, stay physically fit.
A study found that administering 5g of ashwagandha daily to infertile men for three months was enough to boost their testosterone levels by a minimum of 13 percent and up to 22 percent . A similar result was gotten from another study. In this study, infertile men received 3g of ashwagandha root extract daily for three months. Their testosterone level increased by a minimum of 14 percent and up to 41 percent .
But the results become more astounding when one combines ashwagandha supplementation with resistance training.
In one study, healthy subjects, all male (between 18 to 50 years of age) with very little training experience received a daily dose of 300mg of ashwagandha root extract for 8 weeks . They engaged in weekly resistance training throughout the 8 weeks of supplementing with ashwagandha. Results from the study showed a 15.25% increase in their testosterone levels.
Also, bench press 1-RM increased by over 138 percent, while leg extension increased by 52 percent.
What’s more? They lost an incredible amount of body fat (over 3.47%).
These findings prove beyond doubt that ashwagandha is a unique supplement that can boost testosterone production, and by extension, athletic build and performance.
Ashwagandha boosts muscle building
We mentioned in the study above  that ashwagandha supplementation caused a significant improvement in the strength of previously untrained male subjects as measured by their leg extension and bench press 1-RMS. But here’s what you don’t know – the subjects also experienced an increase in arm size (by 38%), and greater increases in the size of their chests (57% increase).
Also, markers of muscle damage due to exercise was greatly reduced.
In another study involving 18 volunteers, ashwagandha was administered in increasing doses for a month. They received 750mg per day for the first ten days, 1000mg daily for the following ten days, and 1250mg per day for the last ten days .
Researchers observed the increase in muscular strength by measuring quadriceps force, grip strength, and back extensor force before, and after the 30 days of supplementation. Grip strength of the subjects increased by 8%, back extensor force by 15.4%, and quadriceps force by 21.5%.
These are very incredible results because the subjects had no sort of training before administration.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS OF ASHWAGANDHA
It reduces blood sugar levels
In several studies, ashwagandha has proven its ability to reduce blood sugar levels.
A test-tube study found that ashwagandha could stimulate insulin secretion, and also improve the sensitivity of insulin in muscle cells .
Also, a 4-week study in schizophrenic patients treated with ashwagandha found a 13.5mg/dL reduction in blood sugar levels, compared with subjects who received a placebo (4.5mg/dL) .
Studies show it may have anti-cancer properties
Test-tube and animal studies have found that an active component of ashwagandha – withaferin, induces apoptosis. Apoptosis means the programmed death of cancer cells .
Ashwagandha also impedes the development of new cancer cells in several ways .
For starters, withaferin promotes reactive oxygen species formation within cancer cells. The formation of ROS disrupts the function of these cancer cells. Also, it decreases the resistance of these cancer cells to apoptosis .
In a study involving rodents with ovarian tumors, it was found that treatment with withaferin or treatment with withaferin and an anti-cancer medication caused a 70-80 percent reduction in the growth of tumors. Cancer spread was also prevented .
Although there’s no evidence to show that these effects could be replicated in humans, but current research yields very encouraging results.
Helps with stress and anxiety
Perhaps the best-known function of ashwagandha is its ability to minimize stress.
Studies have shown that ashwagandha blocks the pathway for stress in the brains of rodents. It does this by regulating neurotransmitter signaling in the nervous system .
In a 2-month study involving 64 chronically-stressed subjects, it was found that the group treated with ashwagandha experienced a 69 percent reduction in insomnia and anxiety, compared with the placebo group who experienced just 11 percent reduction in insomnia and anxiety .
In another 2-month study, reduced anxiety was reported by 88 percent of people who supplemented with ashwagandha, compared with the placebo group where only 50 percent experienced a reduction in anxiety .
Has anti-inflammatory effects
It also decreases inflammatory markers, for example, C-reactive protein (CRP). C-reactive protein is an indication of a high risk of heart disease.
In a particular controlled study, the group that received a daily dose of 250mg had their CRP reduce by 36%, compared with a six percent decrease in the placebo group .
Reduces triglyceride and cholesterol level
Ashwagandha improves cardiovascular health by reducing the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.
Studies conducted on animals have found that it causes a significant decrease in the blood levels of these fats.
A rodent study found that it caused a 53% reduction in total cholesterol levels as well as a 45% reduction in triglyceride levels .