Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, is a popular medicinal plant used throughout Asia and Southern Europe. Scientifically, Ashwagandha is categorized as an adaptogen, which means it increases the body’s ability to handle stress and fatigue by maintaining hormonal balance. In Ayurvedic medicine (i.e., traditional Indian medicine), Ashwagandha is touted for its positive effects on energy, endurance, stamina, longevity, and the immune system, without causing burnout. With these benefits to energy, stamina, and immunity, it seems obvious why supplement research groups are interested in how Ashwagandha may benefit athletes.
A recent double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled study, published in Ayu, evaluated the efficacy of Ashwagandha root extract in enhancing cardiorespiratory endurance and improving quality of life (QOL) in 50 healthy male/female athletic adults. In this study, cardiorespiratory endurance was assessed by measuring the oxygen consumption at peak physical exertion (VO2 max) during a 20 m shuttle run test. As well, quality of life (QOL) was assessed throughout the 12-week experimental period using The World Health Organization self-reported QOL questionnaire. Subjects were randomized to either placebo group (n = 25), or Ashwagandha group (n = 25); where those in the experimental group took 300 mg of Ashwagandha (standardized to 5% withanolides) orally, twice daily for a period of 12 weeks. Subjects in placebo group received identical capsules containing sucrose.
At the end of the 12-week study, those who received Ashwagandha benefitted with an approximately 6% increase in VO2max during the 20 m shuttle run test. In fact, by week 8, the researchers reported that VO2max had already improved by nearly 5%. In contrast, those who received the placebo saw no change in VO2max throughout the study. In terms of QOL, those who took Ashwagandha had significant improvements in all areas tested including benefits to physical and psychological health, and social relationships.
ACTION POINT: As with most herbal supplements, choose extracts that have been standardized to their active component and list this on the label. In the case of Ashwagandha, products should be standardized to % withanolides. Based on the current study, we recommend taking 300 mg Ashwagandha extract, standardized to 5% withanolides (15 mg of withanolides) upon waking and before bed.
Choudhary B, Shetty A, Langade DG. Efficacy of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera [L.] Dunal) in improving cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy athletic adults. Ayu. 2015 Jan-Mar;36(1):63-8.