Herbs and other natural substances have been relied upon for generations to help support the body and promote health—but not too many of them have frequented the gym bags of bodybuilders, athletes, and other fitness lovers. At least not until recently.
As the bodybuilding world leans more and more into holistic health, a few natural supplement all-stars are leading the way and even becoming social media sensations. One of these: shilajit, a mineral-rich resin that has long been used in Ayurveda. While this natural substance is nothing new, it’s having a serious moment right now, particularly for its exercise-related benefits. Experts say it checks multiple boxes when it comes to aiding sports performance and improving general health. Here’s a look at what shilajit is all about—and how it could help level up your gym game.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T., is a functional dietitian and clinical herbalist. Brittany Michels, R.D.N., L.D.N., C.P.T., is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, and one of The Vitamin Shoppe’s in-house nutritionists. Yoshua Quinones, M.D., is a board-certified internist with Medical Offices of Manhattan.
What Is Shilajit?
This sticky, tar-like substance is found in the rocks of mountainous ranges like the Himalayas, Altai, and Caucasus—and has long been consumed by the Sherpas, a Nepalese group native to the mountainous regions of eastern Nepal, to support overall health and longevity.
Shilajit contains several minerals and key compounds, including a type of humic acid called fulvic acid, which is formed during the decomposition of certain plant and microbial materials. According to Yoshua Quinones, M.D., a board-certified internist with Medical Offices of Manhattan, fulvic acid is known for its antioxidant properties—and those properties have far-reaching benefits (including supporting your workout routine).
How Shilajit Can Support Your Health And Fitness
Although there is more research to be done when it comes to just how impactful this natural substance is for exercise enthusiasts, it can help support your health and fitness routine in a few proven ways.
1. helps reduce fatigue and boosts energy
One of the major roadblocks to working out is simply being too tired—and we’ve all been there. Shilajit has been shown to act as an energy revitalizer, helping to enhance physical performance and boost energy, per a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research. It does this by increasing the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the primary energy currency of the cells in our body, explains functional dietitian and clinical herbalist, Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., C.L.T.
ATP provides the energy we need for various cellular activities, such as muscle contraction, DNA replication, and metabolic processes. More ATP means more available energy for both your muscles and your brain to put to work when you’re pumping iron or hitting cardio hard, according to The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N.
In addition to supporting ATP production, research also suggests that shilajit helps ward off chronic fatigue by way of regulating the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which plays a role in our body’s stress response. “This is significant because chronic fatigue can impair people’s motivation and physical capacity to exercise,” says Volpe. “Having more energy can be a game-changer for fitness enthusiasts who struggle with chronic fatigue.”
2. enhances skeletal muscle health and strength
Shilajit has also been shown to boost the strength of the skeletal muscles. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that 12 weeks of supplementing with shilajit (in combination with exercise) supported muscle adaptation by upregulating genes that are essential for the development, maintenance, and regeneration of skeletal muscles.
Another study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that just eight weeks of shilajit supplementation (at a dose of 500 milligrams per day) significantly increased participants’ retention of maximal muscular strength following a fatigue-inducing protocol. Basically, it helped exercisers continue to pump out max efforts, even after tiring out their muscles.
Also worth noting; “This study also found that shilajit reduced blood levels of a substance called hydroxyproline,” Volpe says. “The presence of this substance—especially in high quantities—is indicative of the breakdown of protein (such as collagen) in the body.” This suggests that shilajit may also support healthy muscle mass maintenance.
3. Supports exercise recovery
In addition to supporting your body throughout your training sessions, shilajit (specifically the fulvic acid in it) keeps on working for you as you recover. “Fulvic acid helps support exercise recovery by neutralizing the free radicals created during physical work,” explains Quinones. “It also decreases oxidative stress by reducing muscle damage and promotes recovery between workouts.”
4. may help promote healthy bone density
Healthy bone density is a prerequisite for keeping up with your workouts, especially as you age. In fact, people with serious declines in bone strength and density may be limited in the exercise they can safely do regularly, according to Volpe. Recent research in the journal Polymers has shown that shilajit may be useful for those dealing with bone degeneration. Meanwhile, another study published in the journal Phytomedicine found that shilajit helped protect bone mass in postmenopausal women experiencing declines in bone health. (48 weeks of both 250 and 500 milligrams of shilajit per day were shown to be effective.)
5. can increase the bioavailability of iron
Approximately 10 million Americans are iron-deficient, and about five million of them have what’s known as iron deficiency anemia, a condition that can lead to a myriad of unpleasant symptoms, including low energy, a rapid heartbeat, headaches, and generalized weakness. Thanks to its fulvic acid content, shilajit may help increase the bioavailability of iron in the body (a.k.a. make the iron we already have in our body more usable). This is a big deal for overall health and wellbeing—and also influences your workouts. “Iron is a key nutrient involved in the quantity and size of our red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to every cell in the body,” explains Volpe. “We need to have optimal iron levels for peak exercise endurance and performance, which is why low exercise endurance is often a symptom of iron deficiency anemia.”
Of course, this benefit is particularly useful for those experiencing low iron, particularly those whose exercise routines have been impacted or those who don’t tolerate iron supplements (which can be harsh on the digestive system), Volpe says.
6. Can support healthy testosterone levels
Shilajit has been shown to support healthy testosterone levels in both men and women (yes, women need some, too), which can lead to bountiful exercise-related benefits, notes Volpe. (Low T is associated with muscle loss, increased body fat, low energy and motivation, and more.)
Most of the research here is on men, with one study finding that men who took 250 milligrams of shilajit twice daily for 90 days saw increases in total testosterone, free testosterone, and another androgen called dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS).
Who should try shilajit?
Shilajit is generally well tolerated by those looking to optimize their exercise performance, increase energy, or optimize cognition, notes Volpe. “Supplementation could be especially helpful for people prone to or at increased risk of muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, impaired cognition, low testosterone, iron deficiency anemia, and/or compromised bone density,” she shares.
Meanwhile, pregnant or nursing women, children, and anyone with markedly high testosterone levels should avoid this natural substance. “Since the fulvic acid in shilajit increases usable iron in the body, people with hemochromatosis (iron overload) should also avoid taking shilajit or consult their doctor first,” says Volpe.
Tips for adding shilajit to your routine
Curious about how shilajit could help you level up your efforts in the gym (and in life)? Keep these considerations in mind as you get started.
1. Consult with an expert
Since there are potential contraindications with shilajit, Volpe recommends checking in with a doctor, registered dietitian, or a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before incorporating it into your routine. This is especially important if you take any medications since there’s always potential for interactions.
2. Buy from a trusted source
As with any herbal supplement, make sure to thoroughly vet any brand you’re considering buying shilajit from. Shilajit supplements can vary in quality and authenticity, and you want to make sure that the brand you are purchasing from practices ethical and sustainable harvesting. “The shilajit coming directly from the Himalayas is now at risk of extinction due to over-harvesting,” shares Volpe. Consider buying from a brand that sources its shilajit elsewhere, such as in the Balkan mountains.
Michels recommends Jarrow Formulas Shilajit Fulvic Acid Complex, which is third-party tested and concentrated in fulvic acid.
3. Take in divided doses, twice per day
Instead of taking your dose of shilajit all at once, Volpe suggests dividing it into two daily doses. While ideal amounts can vary (and you should speak to your medical practitioner about which is right for you), research suggests that 200 to 250 milligrams twice daily is effective. “This may be beneficial in that the shilajit can theoretically cover more ‘ground’ when dispersed over greater lengths of time,” she says.
“Many studies recommend administering shilajit in the morning and afternoon, which seems to be effective,” suggests Volpe.