When it comes to bodybuilding of fitness and nutrition, we generally tend to think about protein intake. Yes, aisles of whey protein are perhaps the first images to pop into your head, when anyone mentions supplements for muscle growth. That however, is a very narrow perception of what constitutes essential nutrients for bodybuilding or strength training. Unsurprisingly, many dietitians and athletes now point to Ayurvedic and yogic diet recommendations. On the surface, this may seem impractical or even irrelevant, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find that it makes perfect sense.
Ayurveda and yoga, both encourage diets that aim to nourish the body and mind. This basically means that your diet needs to be customized to meet your specific needs, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. When planning your diet or considering the use of supplements, it also makes sense to adhere to the yogic philosophy of Mitahara. Mitahara quite literally means moderation of food intake, emphasizing greater awareness about food and drink intake, as well as consumption habits – with the goal being balanced nutrition.
Keeping these concepts in mind, you can also use natural supplements to promote muscle growth. Based on existing literature and current research, here are some of the best Ayurvedic supplements and ingredients to support your bodybuilding or fitness activities.
The Best Natural Supplements for Muscle Growth
Ashwagandha for Muscle Growth
Known as Indian Ginseng, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is perhaps the best natural substitute for synthetic supplements that are commonly used by bodybuilders. In Ayurveda, the roots of the herb are regarded as a rasayana or rejuvenator, which promotes health, longevity, and revitalizes the body.
In a study designed specifically to measure the impact of ashwagandha on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance, researchers found that there were improvements in performance, strength, and cardiorespiratory function. There are various possible reasons for these beneficial effects, including proven effects of smooth muscle relaxation and enhanced thyroid function. Other studies also show that ashwagandha extracts can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while increasing testosterone, which is again believed to promote muscle growth.
Ashwagandha Capsules – Dosage 300mg x twice a day with meals
Shatavari for Muscle Growth
Like ashwagandha, shatavari or asparagus racemosus is regarded as a rasayana (rejuvenative). It is commonly prescribed to treat reproductive dysfunctions (especially in women), as well as digestive disorders. The herb is also known to raise energy levels and increase strength. The herb is known to be a rich source of antioxidants and other bioactive phytochemicals like flavonoids and saponins. Notably, it contains steroidal saponins that can boost testosterone levels.
The herb is also popular with bodybuilders because of its rich nutritional profile, including vitamins A, C, B complex, binding proteins, and antibodies. Shatavari also contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which plays a very important role in the synthesis of protein. Studies show that the intake of asparagine can increase muscle growth and boost athletic performance by delaying the onset of fatigue, thereby allowing you to exercise for longer.
In addition, research published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Diseases, shows that Shatavari supplementation can protect against protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation.
Shatavari Capsules – Dosage 500mg x thrice a day 1-2 hours after meals
Gokhru for Muscle Growth
Gokshura or Gokhru (Tribulus Terrestris) has traditionally been used in Ayurveda to treat bladder and kidney disease, as well as female reproductive disorders and some metabolic conditions like diabetes. In recent years however, it has become increasingly popular with athletes and bodybuilders, who struggle to find any legal competitive edge. Although more clinical studies are needed to conclusively support its use as a performance enhancer or muscle growth supplement, the findings so far are encouraging.
Building muscle mass and strength is to a large extent dependent on levels of the male hormones testosterone and androsterone. This is why competitive athletes have often turned to drugs that raise testosterone levels. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical hormonal drugs often pose a risk of serious side effects and are detected in anti-doping tests. Athletes and bodybuilders have therefore begun switching to natural products that produce similar results and this is where gokhru comes into play. Extracts of the herb can help to boost anaerobic muscle power, also raising testosterone levels, as shown in a study conducted by Lithuanian researchers.
Gokhru (Tribulus Terrestris) Capsules – Dosage 625mg x thrice a day with meals
Safed Musli for Muscle Growth
Safed musli (Chlorophytum borivilianum) is native to India, where it has long been cultivated and even used as a culinary ingredient in some communities. In Ayurveda, the herb is often recommended as a rasayan, like most of the other Ayurvedic ingredients that are suitable for bodybuilders. It has mainly been used to treat male sexual dysfunctions like erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, as well as for musculoskeletal health.
Although more research is needed to measure the actual gains from safed musli supplementation, some studies show clear benefits. A clinical investigation with supplements containing safed musli showed that the ingredient promoted an increase in growth hormone levels among healthy male subjects. This is notable, as growth hormone or GH levels are believed to have a considerable impact on muscle bulk. Incidentally, adequate sleep also helps improve GH levels, while inadequate sleep increases cortisol levels, which damages muscles and lowers testosterone levels.
Safed Musli extract – Dosage 200mg x 2/3 times a day with food (ideally first dose of the day should be 30 to 60 minutes prior to workout)
Salab Punja for Muscle Growth
Salab Punja (Dactylorhiza hatagirea) has been widely used in traditional medicine like Ayurveda, in North India and Nepal. Native to the Himalayan region, this herb is sadly endangered today, which means that there are strict laws to protect it. As a consequence, supplements containing the ingredient are hard to come by and are probably illegal. The herb was used to treat a variety of digestive ailments, as well as to promote quick healing and recovery. One of the most popular uses of the herb has been to treat sexual disorders, but owing to all of these benefits it also helps to promote muscle growth.
In fact, a study investigating the therapeutic benefit of salab punja as an aphrodisiac points out that the anabolic effect of the plant extract is actually “comparable to testosterone treatment”. Like other testosterone treatments, salab punja can therefore help to build muscle mass and raise energy levels.
Information on dosage for this supplement is unavailable, as the sale or utilization of salab punja is restricted under Indian law.
Contrary to popular belief and the norm, bodybuilding doesn’t have to be synonymous with steroid use, nor is it solely dependent on protein intake. While protein is one of the most essential of the broader nutrient groups for muscle growth, a balanced nutritional intake is vital for good health and building both strength and stamina. Many of those neglected micronutrients are in fact essential for the proper synthesis of protein in the body.
When following an Ayurvedic diet all of these aspects are balanced to help get you closer to your goals. Moreover, all of these herbal supplements are completely natural and if used appropriately pose little to no risk of side effects. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women are advised to avoid using these supplements. Likewise, patients who are on any other medication, should consult their health care provider before beginning any supplement use.
Sandhu, J., Shah, B., Shenoy, S., Padhi, M., Chauhan, S., & Lavekar, G. (2010). Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults [Abstract]. International Journal of Ayurveda Research, 1(3), 144. http://doi.org/10.4103/0974-7788.72485
Upton R., (2000). Ashwagandha Root: Withania Somnifera: Analytical, Quality Control, and Therapeutic Monograph. Santa Cruz, California: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia
Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255–262. http://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.106022
Ambiye, V. R., Langade, D., Dongre, S., Aptikar, P., Kulkarni, M., & Dongre, A. (2013). Clinical Evaluation of the Spermatogenic Activity of the Root Extract of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in Oligospermic Males: A Pilot Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2013, 571420. http://doi.org/10.1155/2013/571420
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Alleman, R. J., Canale, R. E., McCarthy, C. G., & Bloomer, R. J. (2011). A Blend of Chlorophytum Borivilianum and Velvet Bean Increases Serum Growth Hormone in Exercise-Trained Men. Nutrition and Metabolic Insights, 4, 55–63. http://doi.org/10.4137/NMI.S8127
Thakur, M., & Dixit, V. K. (2007). Aphrodisiac Activity of Dactylorhiza hatagirea(D.Don) Soo in Male Albino Rats. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 4(Suppl 1), 29–31. http://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nem111