Of all the herbs listed in the previous articles, this is the single greatest Ayurvedic herb for athletes and trainees. Some of the most important constituents in the roots of the Ashwagandha shrub are called saponins, alkaloids and withanolides, each with a different function. The primary saponin in Ashwagandha is something called sitoindocide VII, purported to give the herb it’s anti-stress effects. Steroidal lactones such as withaferin-A and withanolides A-Y are said to have anabolic effects. Ashwagandha is so often used because of its ability to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is termed catabolic as it has the opposite effect to testosterone, insulin and growth hormone in that it breaks down tissue. In fact, despite being a steroid hormone, cortisol is the body's primary catabolic hormone and is released by the adrenal glands under conditions of high mental and physical stress. The primary functions of cortisol are to reduce protein synthesis and to halt tissue growth. What’s worse, many individuals who work out for longer than an hour suffer increased cortisol levels due to the stress put on the body by weight lifting. In fact, one of the many reasons why anabolic steroids are so effective at putting muscle on users is because cortisol drops very low, allowing for longer, higher volume workouts that yield greater muscle gains. In the case of Ashwagandha, it is also possible to work out for longer but to also ensure that muscle tissue is repaired as completely as possible.
As if that weren’t enough, studies have shown that Ashwagandha has the ability to regulate sleep cycles, promoting higher Growth Hormone levels and further improving recovery and improving insulin sensitivity. The importance of Growth Hormone for athletes can be read about here.
Ashwagandha has also been studied for its effect on nerve function. The Central Nervous System (CNS) is where humans derive our strength from, and it is only by recruiting more muscle fibers to action that athletes are able to move more weight. The best brain supplements for improving one’s CNS can be seen here. A study conducted by the Banaras Hindu University in India demonstrated that Ashwagandha contains compounds that possess strong antioxidant properties. Upon injecting rats with Ashwagandha extracts, it was discovered that the compounds within the extract led to high levels of antioxidants within the animal's brains. Elevated levels of four significant antioxidants (glutathione, peroxidase, catalase and superoxide dismutase) where identified in the study. It is though that this ability of Ashwagandha to produce effects that have antioxidants may also shed light to a certain degree on why the herb is thought to have an impact on slowing the aging process.