If you’re looking for an in depth guide that explains the benefits of ZMA supplements along with the recommended dosage and potential side effects that they may come with, then your search has reached its destination.
OriGym have compiled a thorough report of all the crucial information surrounding ZMA supplements, providing you with a one stop shop for everything you need to know before incorporating them into your lifestyle.
Before we delve in any further, have you ever considered pursuing a career within the fitness industry? If so, be sure to check out OriGym’s range of PT qualifications, or download our prospectus for more information before you carry on reading.
- What is ZMA?
- What Does ZMA Do?
- What is ZMA Used For?
- ZMA Benefits
- ZMA Side Effects
- ZMA Dosage
- ZMA Nutritional Value
- Where To Buy ZMA?
- When To Take ZMA?
- Fitness Goals ZMA Assists
- ZMA Foods
What is ZMA?
ZMA, otherwise known as zinc magnesium aspartate, is marketed as an anabolic or muscle building supplement. These are popular amongst athletes, weightlifters, and fitness enthusiasts alike.
ZMA tablets contain three components: Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate, and vitamin B6. All three collectively play vital roles in the body's functions.
In theory, ZMA can have a significant positive effect on testosterone levels and athletic performance, as well as nervous system health, quality of sleep, immune health, and weight loss.
However, in order for more concrete evidence on the benefits of ZMA capsules, more up-to-date research would need to be conducted, as there are currently limited studies available.
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What Does ZMA Do?
In theory, the benefits of ZMA tablets are a result of its three elements: B6, zinc and magnesium.
Zinc is essential for metabolism, including reactions involved in immunity, cell division, digestion, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates into energy.
Magnesium supports energy burn, muscle function, nerve function, blood sugar regulation, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and the synthesis of new bone tissue.
The body cannot make B6, so it must be obtained from the diet. Without B6 the immune system cannot fight infection from bacteria or virus or ease inflammation response.
Vitamin B6 further supports healthy function of the nervous system, the breakdown of protein, fats and carbohydrates to be used by the body, and the creation of red blood cells.
What is ZMA Used For?
Reported benefits of ZMA supplements include: enhanced athletic performance, muscle building, improved endurance, improved immunity, reduced inflammation, a key cause of chronic diseases such as CHD and cancer, blood sugar control, wound healing, mood, sleep quality and improved recovery after exercise.
Manufacturers also claim supplementing with zinc and magnesium may boost testosterone production, in turn bumping muscle mass and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which has growth-promoting effects on skeletal muscle.
#1. Improves Athletic Performance
Perhaps the most attractive claim made by supplement brands is the proposed benefits of ZMA tablets in enhancing athletic performance and the link between ZMA and bodybuilding.
However, the strongest research to support this claim only proves that athletic performance can be positively affected through the use of ZMA supplementations when deficiencies in zinc and magnesium are present in athletes.
It is common for athletes to follow diets that are low in zinc and magnesium, as they sometimes opt for unbalanced diets that are overly reliant on single food groups.
For example, it is popular for endurance athletes to consume a very high carbohydrate, low protein, and low fat diet, which has been directly linked to zinc deficiency. Studies found that prolonged periods of this style diet could reduce the suboptimal zinc intake in 90% of athletes.
Not only this, but they also tend to lose these minerals through their sweat and urine both during and after exercise at a rate beyond what can be replenished.
Zinc deficiency can lead to extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, impaired immune function, hair loss, diarrhoea, impotence, plus eye and skin lesions and so for this reason, ZMA supplements can prove a brilliant addition to athletes' daily diets and in turn benefit athletic performance.
Magnesium, which is usually offered in a 450mg dosage in ZMA capsules, affects muscle function, including: energy production, oxygen uptake, and electrolyte balance. Small magnesium deficiencies can negatively impact exercise performance, as well as prevent the body from healing.
Therefore, to enhance recovery and rehabilitation and in turn aid athletic performance, increasing magnesium levels may help, supporting ZMA as a sports recovery supplement.
However, it is worth noting that whilst supplementation is effective for those suffering from a deficiency, researchers have concluded that magnesium supplementation in athletes with adequate magnesium levels has no benefit in enhancing performance, suggesting that magnesium's effect here is in resolving a problem back to baseline as opposed to enhancing performance to a new optimal.
Another supplement that is popular for its athetic enhancing benefits is L-Glutamine - read all about it here.
With high levels of zinc and magnesium, ZMA tablets may enhance athletic performance in those who are deficient in either one of the minerals. However, at present there is little research to suggest that supplementing with additional zinc or magnesium in those who are already at baseline levels will positively impact exercise performance.
#2. Aids Weight Loss and Improves Sleep
Many of the most common Internet searches for this matter revolve around the ZMA benefits for sleep and weight loss, and whether they are truly effective.
In a double-blind clinical trial, 60 diagnosed obese participants, aged 18-45, were randomly divided into two intervention groups: those who would recieve 30mg of zinc daily, or those who would receive a placebo.
To measure the results, researchers took the body mass index (BMI), weight and waist circumference of each individual both prior to the investigation, and again one month later.
The statistics showed that those treated with 30mg of zinc lost significantly more body weight, therefore leading the researchers to conclude that zinc can be suggested as a suitable supplementation therapy for obese people.
This is possibly due to zinc’s proven effects as an appetite suppressant, supporting ZMA's use as a weight-loss supplement.
An uncommon supplement that offers solidified evidence for its weight loss properties is milk thistle. Not familiar with it? Read more on the benefits of milk thistle here.
When considering ZMA's effectiveness for weight loss, it is important to consider ZMA as a sleep aid.
Does ZMA help you sleep?
Over time, there have been ample studies looking at the connections between ZMA and sleep. As mentioned earlier, the primary elements of ZMAs are zinc and magnesium, both of which have been linked to having a level of effectiveness in improving sleep quality.
For example, magnesium can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to relaxation and improving symptoms of restlessness, irritability, lack of concentration, sleep disorders and depression.
In a controlled experiment, researchers wanted to analyse the effect zinc supplementation had on the sleep quality, if any. They used a sample of 54 intensive care unit nurses and randomly assigned 220 mg zinc sulfate capsules every 72 hours for 1 month to one half of the group, and then a placebo to the other half.
Sleep quality of subjects was measured by calculating the total quality sleep score using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). The results found that both the sleep quality and sleep duration of the nurses given the zinc dosage improved from baseline, supporting the theory that ZMA for sleep is effective.
While no studies have found that ZMA supplementation can directly aid weight loss, the proven benefits of ZMA for sleep may, in turn, aid weight loss indirectly. In a 2016 review of the connection between sleep and weight loss, researchers concluded disturbed sleep is a significant risk for continued obesity in adulthood and a serious risk factor for the development of lifelong obesity in children.
In a further 2016 report, researchers concluded that poor sleep quality can cause hormonal imbalances, disrupt feeding centres in the brain and even negatively impact the gut biomicrome all leading to significant chances of becoming or remaining obese.
Alternatively, green tea also offers a brilliant aid for relaxing and enhanced sleep quality. You can find out more green tea benefits here.
#3. Increases Testosterone Levels
Potentially one of the more commonly known ZMA benefits and most popular searches online, there have been multiple ZMA studies that look into the link between the supplement and increased testosterone levels.
Deficiencies in either magnesium or zinc have been proven to have direct links in reducing testosterone production, as well as negatively affecting insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), a hormone that affects cell growth and recovery.
Low testosterone can affect a man’s muscle mass and energy levels, as well as an array of qualities that are non-fitness related, including mental health and sex drive. Testosterone has a direct link with the body’s capability to build muscle, as well as weight maintenance, therefore the lower the level in the body, the harder it is to achieve both of these things.
In one ZMA testosterone study conducted by Washington University, which saw 27 NCAA football players split into two groups and given either ZMA supplementation or a placebo each night for eight weeks, found there were significantly increased testosterone levels and muscle strength in the group that received the ZMA.
The results revealed that the strength of the ZMA group increased by 11.6% compared to 4.6% in the placebo, meaning over double the gains in muscle strength in the ZMA group, therefore concluding ZMA benefits testosterone levels. Increases were measured by muscle strength, functional power, testosterone and IGF-1 levels.
It's possible that the NCAA football players were zinc-deficient and therefore this is why the improvements were seen in Washington University's study, but unfortunately zinc deficiency wasn't accounted for, so we cannot confirm.
To achieve optimal results with your ZMA supplementation, you may want to look at incorporating strength building exercises into your tarining routine. To learn how to do the dumbbell clean and press, check out our full guide.
Additionally, in a four week study into the effects of magnesium supplementation in sportsmen, testosterone levels were measured at four intervals: resting before supplementation, post-exercise before supplementation, resting after supplementation, and post-exercise supplementation.
The researchers concluded supplementing with magnesium can in fact increase testosterone in sedentary individuals as well as athletes.
So when looking for an answer to the question: ‘Does ZMA increase testosterone?’ These studies would conclude positively.
#4. Controls Blood Sugars
Zinc and magnesium supplements have been linked to helping people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels.
The level of Magnesium in the body is likely to decline in those who are diagnosed with diabetes, and can in fact fall dangerously low in those suffering from severe diabetic retinopathy.
A deficiency in magnesium has been shown to directly negatively impact the blood sugar control of type 2 diabetics. Additionally, a zinc deficiency has also been identified to contribute to the development of diabetes in some people.
Zinc has been identified as a crucial element in insulin metabolism, as well as being a powerful guardian against viral infections and may act to protect beta cells from destruction. Those suffering with type 1 diabetics more often than not have a zinc deficiency, and supplements such as ZMA have been shown to lower blood sugar levels in some type 1 cases.
In a 2013 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, examining over 52,000 people with diabetes, a higher intake of magnesium resulted in lower fasting blood sugar and lower fasting insulin levels.
This is relevant to those with diabetes looking to lose weight, as lower insulin levels have been proven to positively impact the body's ability to access fat for fuel. Diabetic patients with high fasting insulin levels may find it more difficult to lose weight.
Based on findings, Magnesium may increase the body's insulin sensitivity bringing down blood insulin levels, therefore, has been linked to potentially acting as a great option as a supplement for diabetic patients.
In order to understand our blood sugar more, you may want to look into the types of body fat and how they can in fact regulate blood sugars.
Overall, both zinc and magnesium appear to have strong support for stabilising fasting and feeding blood sugar.
Though research into their use in combination is limited, in theory, ZMA supplementation could prove a brilliant option for prediabetic patients, diabetic patients or anyone concerned about their fasting blood sugar following intermediate fasting plans.
#5. Boosts Mood Levels
A combination of the three vitamins and minerals in ZMA have been directly linked to improving a person’s mood.
Magnesium is vital for optimal brain function in clinical mental health conditions, such as depression linked to deficiencies. Therefore, low magnesium in the body can result in increased depression symptoms.
For example, a study of 8,900 adults found a significant link between low magnesium intake and depression, particularly amongst young adults and another 12-week study showed daily magnesium supplementation reduced depression just as effectively as antidepressants.
These results have been widely repeated suggesting magnesium can be a valuable addition in lifestyles to help manage depression, consequently confirming ZMA benefits mood levels.
Zinc has also been directly linked to depression, with research finding that those who have been medicated for a zinc deficiency also experiencing antidepressant effects subsequently.
The way in which zinc does this is thought to be by increasing serotonin in the brain, the equivalent mechanisms of how Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) work. SSRIs are the most widely distributed form of antidepressant.
If you would prefer a more organic way to improve your mood, then you can find a whole host of ideas on our best natural mood boosters that you can do right now list.
As we have mentioned, low magnesium in the body is often associated with low testosterone, which has been linked to low mood primarily in men, but in women also. Therefore, by supplementing with ZMA for its testosterone boosting qualities, you may in turn see a direct boost in your mood.
Furthermore, zinc supplementation may improve and prevent anger and irritability, as well as depressive symptoms. This was identified in a controlled study where zinc supplementation was effective in reducing anger and depression, indicating a role for zinc deficiency in the development of mood disorders and as a potential treatment.
#6. May Boost Immunity
The three elements of ZMA capsules combine together to play vital roles in the body’s immune health.
For instance, zinc is crucial for the function and development of many immune cells and by implementing a higher dosage into your lifestyle, it is reported to reduce the risk of infections and aid wound healing.
Additionally, it has been identified that a deficiency in magnesium is linked to chronic inflammation - a leading factor of aging and chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.
Furthermore, a deficiency in Vitamin B6 has been linked in numerous studies to poor immunity. This comes as a result of the body’s immune system requiring the vitamin to produce bacteria-fighting white blood cells, as well as enhancing their ability to combat inflammation and infection.
With all that in mind, it is easy to understand how supplementing with ZMA and increasing your intake of all three compounds have a direct link in boosting immunity.
These findings can be supported by a number of scientific experiments. For instance, a 2004 study looking into the effects of zinc magnesium aspartate (ZMA) supplementation on training adaptations and markers of anabolism and catabolism, academics suggested that zinc deficiencies in athletes contribute to impaired immune function and decreased performance, therefore increasing zinc levels through the implementation of ZMA supplements can, in theory, benefit the immune function.
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ZMA Side Effects
For those of you wondering ‘is ZMA safe?’, all research to date shows there are no direct side effects of the ZMA supplement.
However, any ZMA side effects that do occur are the result of moderate-to-high doses of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6.
High doses of zinc, for example, may cause: nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, stomach cramps, headaches, and dizziness. Therefore, these symptoms are often listed as ZMA side effects by brands.
Overly high doses of magnesium can similarly cause: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach cramps. Plus, high doses of vitamin B6 can lead to potential nerve damage - again, all of which are often listed as the side effects of ZMA products.
It's important to never exceed the dose highlighted on the label and to consult a doctor or health practitioner prior to taking ZMA, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as zinc and magnesium can interact with a variety of medications, such as blood pressure medications and antibiotics.
ZMA Dosage Recommendations
Broadly, three scoops of ZMA supplement powder (or three capsules) will have a formula that equates to the recommended ZMA dosage. It may be worth noting that ZMA is mostly available in the form of capsules on the UK market.
The recommended ZMA dosage is as follows:
- 10-11mg or 650% - RDI of Vitamin B6
- 450mg or 110% - RDI of Magnesium Aspartate
- 30mg or 270% - RDI of Zinc Monomethionine
However, occasionally with alternative forms of zinc, magnesium and additional vitamins and minerals, ZMA capsules will vary in their formula depending on the brand.
For example, MyProtein sells a ZMA supplement with 40% the RDI of Magnesium, 100% the RDI of Zinc and 250% the RDI of Vitamin B6. As another example, Holland and Barrett's own brand ZMA capsules comes in at 500% the RDI for Vitamin B6, 80% the RDI of magnesium and 200% the RDI of Zinc.
When considering ZMA for women, most brands will advise a moderately lower ZMA dosage of two capsules or two scoops of powder daily. For those wondering the best time to take ZMA, the advice is to take ZMA before bed, normally on an empty stomach.
ZMA Nutritional Value
Just like dosages, nutritional values may vary from one product to the next, therefore we have broken it down into three of the most popular products on offer for your reference.
When looking at Bulk.com’s ZMA capsules, which suggest a serving of three capsules for optimal effectiveness, the contents is as followed:
- Vitamin B6 (as pyridoxine hydrochloride): 10.5mg / 3 capsules
- Magnesium (as citrate and oxide): 450mg / 3 capsules
- Zinc (as mono-L-methionine and aspartate): 30mg / 3 capsules
Using Holland & Barrett Precision Engineered ZMA Anabolic Mineral Support Formula Capsules for comparison, the health brand suggest a serving of two capsules, which offer:
- Vitamin B6: 7mg / 2 capsules
- Magnesium: 300mg / 2 capsules
- Zinc: 20mg / 2 capsules
Finally, MyProtein states that just one capsule of their ZMA product offers enough nutrients for effective benefits. Their contents are noticeably much lower than the aforementioned offerings, however are more suited for only looking to increase their intake minorly. They contain:
- Vitamin B6: 3.5mg / 1 tablet
- Magnesium: 150mg / 1 tablet
- Zinc: 10mg / 1 tablet
While the values of ZMA products differ across the market, this allows those requiring a smaller intake to supplement with a lower dosage tablet, whereas those in need of a significant boost, such as those with zinc deficiencies to opt for higher dose products or take 2-3 tablets.
Where To Buy ZMA?
Due to ZMA’s proven benefits and hailed effectiveness, it means this supplement is widely available on the UK market. More traditionally sold in capsule form, you can find ZMA supplements in a number of healthcare, sports and fitness stores, as well as global retail giants and supermarkets.
We would personally recommend starting with products from trusted brands, such as MyProtein’s ZMA capsules, Bulk.com’s ZMA capsules, or Holland & Barrett Precision Engineered ZMA capsules. Alternatively, if you are looking specifically for ZMA in a powder form, we would recommend Allsports Nutrition ZMA powder.
As we mentioned in the previous section, different products can feature different levels of each vitamin and mineral, so depending on your desired dosage intake would decipher which product would benefit your lifestyle and needs the best.
When To Take ZMA?
Unlike with other supplements, the time in which you consume ZMA supplements is not a massive concern, as the three ingredients of ZMA tend to absorb slowly.
However, supplement labels, such as Holland & Barrett’s Precision Engineered ZMA capsules, advise taking this product on an empty stomach about 30–60 minutes before bed. This prevents nutrients like zinc from interacting with others such as calcium.
The reason for this is calcium can reduce the intake of zinc, which can present an even bigger inconvenience for those who already struggle to absorb zinc.
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Fitness Goals Assisted by ZMA
ZMA has long been hailed by athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts for its benefits in the fitness field, but why?
While you can find the general answer within the benefits section, we wanted to summarise exactly how ZMA and its individual vitamins and minerals can assist you in achieving your fitness goals.
- Enhances Performance - By disposing of lactate and reducing fatigue, ZMAs allow for longer and more effective workouts with an enhanced sensation of energy.
- Muscle Growth - By increasing zinc intake with ZMAs this directly enables the body to maintain and even enhance its muscle recovery and growth abilities. Additionally, by helping with the production of testosterone (through magnesium and zinc) this can further enhance muscle mass and recovery.
- Weight Loss - ZMAs work to boost the metabolic rate (calories burned daily) as well as the body’s fat-burning properties, therefore enabling the body to burn through fat at a quicker pace and result in weight loss.
ZMA Food Sources
In addition to ZMA supplements, another effective way to replenish these minerals is through diet and the foods we eat.
As your body cannot produce either of the three present ingredients, it is important that we acquire the recommended daily dosage through food or supplement sources. All three compounds can be found in an array of readily available sources.
To highlight a few of the most valued food sources of these compounds:
Oysters are by far the best food source of magnesium and zinc are oysters, with an 85g portion supplying an impressive 154mg of Zinc and 81mg of magnesium.
An 85g portion of queen cooked crab provides 3.1mg of Zinc and 53.5 mg of magnesium. Alternatively, a serving of Alaskan king crab (1 leg or about 134g) offers 10.2 mg of zinc and 84.4 mg of magnesium. Vitamin B6 is also present in crab, with a 100g serving offering 0.2mg.
Nuts and Seeds
Amongst all seeds, roasted pumpkin seeds offer the latest amount of magnesium and zinc, with a 1/4-cup serving containing 4.2mg of zinc and 303mg of magnesium.
Toasted sesame seeds are also a great source, with a 1/4-cup serving offering 3.3 mg of zinc and 111 mg of magnesium. A 100g serving of sesame seeds also provides 1mg of vitamin B6.
A 1/2-cup serving of whole nuts offers 2.7 mg of zinc and 250 mg of magnesium.
100% bran cereal, such as Kellogg's All Bran, offers 3.7mg of zinc and 81mg of magnesium per 1/3-cup serving. A 100g serving offers an impressive 1.2mg of vitamin B6.
A 1/2-cup serving of raw soybeans provides 4.5mg of zinc and 261mg of magnesium. A 100g serving aso contains 0.4mg of Vitamin B6.
225g (8 oz) of low-fat, fruited yogurt contains approximately 1.8mg of zinc and 3mg of magnesium. Yoghurt is also the only dairy product that offers appreciable amounts of zinc and magnesium.
Additionally, milk and bananas provide a great source for vitamin B6.
While theory is one thing, it is important to look at the wider research that is available, especially in the supplement industry.
Only a few studies have looked into ZMA and athletic performance, muscle building and other theoretical ZMA supplement benefits, such as testosterone production and improved sleep, so in order for more solid evidence, further studies and experiments would need to be conducted.
In the simplest terms, ZMA tablets are merely a formula of zinc, magnesium and B6; so the question as to whether ZMA could be effective for any one benefit can be explored by looking at the effectiveness of the elements in isolation, and when doing so, you will find that all three provide significant improvements and enhancements to the body’s functions.
Before you leave, if you have found this article interesting and would like to further advance your nutrition knowledge, then you why not head over to OriGym's nutrition course page, where you will discover our nutrition course, as well as a number of their qualifications that will see you on your way to a successful career in the fitness industry. Or if you’d rather, you can download our free course prospectus right here.
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