What Is Ashwagandha and How Does It Help Athletes?

How the popular stress-busting adaptogen ashwagandha helps athletes

Ashwagandha is more than a perennial herb. It’s an adaptogen, a group of non-toxic plants and mushrooms that have been used for ages in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to help bodies resist stress. And it can be a secret weapon for athletes.

Adaptogens are experiencing a resurgence–you might even spot them on the menu at your juice bar or coffee shop–and for good reason. In the face of sky-high stress levels, people (including athletes and other high-performers) are turning to adaptogens like ashwagandha to combat stress, improve focus, accelerate recovery and fight fatigue.

Ayurveda, a medical approach that’s been practiced in India and surrounding countries for thousands of years, calls on hundreds of plant species. Traditionally, practitioners recommend ashwagandha specifically for combating long-term stress, calling on its cortisol-balancing, immunity-boosting, and thyroid-supporting perks.

In Sanskrit, ashwagandha translates to “the smell of a horse” (probably because its roots smell like horse sweat)! In India, it’s often called Indian ginseng, and is used as a nerve tonic for a wide range of conditions, including insomnia, joint inflammation, and rheumatism.

Botanists know ashwagandha as Withania somnifera, the shrub that’s native to southern Asia. It’s a nightshade (aka a cousin to tomatoes. Be warned, Tom Brady!) with deep, thick roots. That’s where it stores its relaxing compounds.

While research in the U.S. isn’t as robust as abroad, it’s been said that ashwagandha acts similarly to the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. One study found that full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improved research participant’s resistance to stress. Other studies suggest ashwagandha boasts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, too, which is a huge benefit for athletes.

When stressors come at us from all angles, be it in environmental toxins, physical exertion, or even social snafus, ashwagandha can help soothe adrenals. Ashwagandha is a key ingredient in PowerUp, a blend of potent botanicals specifically designed for athletes in need of a sustained energy boost.