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What is ZMA, and is it a worthwhile supplement?

Thursday, January 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Daily Blog

January
23
2014
ZMA - this is one of the few supplements that I feel is worthy of my money.

ZMA – this is one of the few supplements that I feel is worthy of my money.

In my recent article, “Suplements: what I use, and my thoughts on ‘fat burners’“, and in my older (but still highly relevant) article “My take on supplements“, I neglected to mention a supplement that I feel is quite good: ZMA.

ZMA is a simple, all-natural, safe**, inexpensive and effective (at least on some levels–see below) dietary supplement. It contains a synergistic blend of just three ingredients: Zinc, Magnesium Asparatate and vitamin B6.

** Zinc toxicity is something to be aware of. Most sedentary individuals get plenty of zinc through their normal diet, while hard-training athletes are often found to be deficient in zinc (a lot of zinc is lost through sweat). I am not a doctor or health professional. Always fully research any supplement or medication before choosing to take it! Personally I tend to take ZMA for about 3 months and then cycle off of it–usually for at least 3 months, but often years (as is the current case). I’ve never had a problem, but I train daily and sweat a lot.

ZMA was developed by Victor Conte, founder of BALCO. Unfortunately BALCO is often associated with a 2003 doping scandal, however that scandal (and doping) has absolutely nothing to do with ZMA. SNAC Systems, in which Victor Conte has ownership equity, owns the trademark for ZMA’s proprietary blend. These days more than 100 manufacturers are fully licensed and authorized to distribute ZMA (including Now Sports ZMA, which is what I take).

So, what are some of the claimed benefits of ZMA?

  • Increased muscle strength
  • Increased testosterone
  • Increased anabolic hormone levels
  • Increased endurance
  • Faster recovery
  • Increased libido
  • Deeper, more restful sleep

On June 2, 1999 at the 46th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Seattle, WA, Dr. Lorraine Brilla, a sports performance researcher at Western Washington University, published in the official ACSM journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol. 31, No. 5, May 1999.

According to Dr. Brilla, “A group of competitive NCAA football players who took ZMA nightly during an 8 week spring training program had 2.5 times greater muscle strength gains than a placebo group. Pre and post leg strength measurements were made.” The strength of the ZMA group increased by 11.6% compared to only a 4.6% increase in the placebo group.

“The muscle strength increases may have been mediated by the anabolic hormone increases in the ZMA group. The ZMA group had 30% increases in free and total testosterone levels compared to 10% decreases in the placebo group. The ZMA group also had a slight increase in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels compared to a 20% decrease in the placebo group. This study shows that anabolic hormone and muscle strength increases can be induced in already strength-trained athletes by using a novel zinc-magnesium preparation”, said Brilla.

It’s important to note that the ZMA IP rights holder, SNAC Systems (again, in which Victor Conte has a financial stake) funded the above study. When the developer of a product pays for a study, that always gets my Spidey senses tingling.

Contradicting the above, a 2004 study funded by a research grant from Cytodyne (a supplement company which, somewhat ironically, had a ZMA product on the market) with 42 resistance trained males showed that “ZMA supplementation had no significant effects on total and free testosterone, IGF-1, growth hormone, cortisol, the ratio of cortisol to testosterone, or muscle and liver enzymes in response to training. No significant effects were observed in changes in strength, upper or lower body muscle endurance, or anaerobic sprint capacity.”

What is not in dispute are the benefits of Zinc and Magnesium, especially in hard-training athletes who tend to lose these minerals in their sweat.

Zinc is essential to numerous chemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis and cellular energy. Its immune system values begin with zinc’s ability to regulate the production of testosterone cells. Zinc also helps provides critical protection to the liver, assists in deterring enlargement of the prostate gland, and is essential in maintaining reproductive organ health.

Magnesium is essential for normal heart function, transporting neurochemicals essential in muscle function and mood regulation, and in the critical balance of sodium and potassium within our cells. Despite its vital contributions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 74% of people take in less than the recommended Daily Value of 400 milligrams (for men).

So, putting all that aside, why do I take ZMA? Because I sleep like the dead when I’m taking it. Perhaps I’m getting some of the other claimed benefits, perhaps I’m not. What I do know is that when I take ZMA my sleep is incredibly deep (and I have really vivid dreams, which I quite enjoy!) To me, the recovery/sleep aspect alone is enough to justify this inexpensive supplement. I don’t take ZMA all the time, in fact when I resume taking it tonight it will be the first time I’ve used it in years.

Feel free to post your thoughts and personal experiences with ZMA below!

John Stone Fitness Comments

16 Responses to “What is ZMA, and is it a worthwhile supplement?”
  1. Just ordered a bottle, sounds good to me. What is crazy is that NOW “Nutrition for Optimal Wellness”, biggest plant on the west coast is about a mile from my house, I pass it just about everyday!

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  2. I’m curious, do you think this is a bit of a placebo effect with your sleep John and could similar benefits be had by taking a simple multi-vitamin? I’m not sure about the Aspartate.

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      • Examine.com blows me away with the depth and insight of their research. They’ve become my go-to site when I have questions about supplements, etc. No product affiliations, which is nice.

        Here’s their “About Us” statement:

        Examine.com is an independent encyclopedia on supplementation and nutrition. We are not affiliated in any way with any supplement company.

        Founded in early 2011, we have one goal – to be the unbiased source for supplements and nutrition. We have spent thousands of hours collating the latest scientific research.

        This site is run by editors who examine primary research. Users are encouraged to submit corrections and any research we may have missed.

        (I’m not affiliated with the site whatsoever.)

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  3. I don’t want to get too detailed here, but I never know what to believe on other sites/forums. I’ve read in a few places that ZMA will increase the volume of your….um…offering. Has anyone experienced that?

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      • I suppose it’s just curiosity really. One of the times the wife and I were trying to get pregnant and it took some time I researched it, but never followed up. So when I read this blog it jogged the memory and I was just wondering, that’s all. My apologies.

        I was like 51% send the comment, 49% don’t send the comment. But getting to read the phrase ‘baby batter’ made it worth it. 😀

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        • No need to apologize, all comments are welcome. 🙂 I was just surprised that anyone would care about such a thing. So, is there some sort of correlation between semen volume and sperm count? I didn’t think there was, but if there is I can certainly see why you asked the question.

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          • I think there can be a correlation between the two, particularly when there is also a boost in test which ZMA is purported to do as well. I didn’t get too deep into the research as we did indeed get pregnant right around the time we started to get ‘worried’ and thus I stopped the Googleing. 🙂

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