ZMA (zinc-magnesium-aspartate) is supposed to improve the quality of sleep and increase testosterone levels – at least, that’s what they say.
Still, better sleep, higher testosterone, sounds great, doesn’t it?
But is there any truth to these claims?
In this article, I’ll check out one of the most popular supplements and explain what you can expect from ZMA.
What is ZMA?
Anyone who has been involved in the sport for a little while knows that the macronutrient intake (carbohydrates, fats & proteins) plays a crucial role in training at a high level (and building muscle).
Still, most of us are aware that also micronutrients are crucial for an athlete’s success.
Without micronutrients, you wouldn’t even get your workout going.
Most of us only think of micronutrients when they are sick and there is a suspicion that a lack of micronutrients could have contributed to the situation.
And that’s usually the case. Micronutrients have a major impact on our health and sports performance.
Also, micronutrients are an important factor in our cells because they ultimately make everything work the way it should.
Think about it this way: Macronutrients are the fuel, while micronutrients give you the ability to actually use the fuel.
In other words, macronutrients are petrol, micronutrients are the spark! And you have to burn the gas to power your car.
Granted – this analogy is not perfect (sucks), but it helps you to visualize the whole thing.
Micronutrients do more than making your cells burn carbohydrates.
They regulate many processes involved in building muscle, controlling inflammation, signaling hormones, and many other important things.
When we compare the increased micronutrient needs of athletes with the decreasing micronutrient content of our modern foods, two micronutrients stand out: zinc and magnesium.
It has been discovered for some time that these two elements play an important role in performance-related nutrition. This is the best way to explain the origin of a zinc-magnesium combined supplement.
This product type enjoys great popularity within the fitness world. Actually, it should be called zinc magnesium aspartate, but most know it under the patent name ZMA®.
ZMA is one of the few nutritional supplements that I use myself.
Today, I would like to explain to you why ZMA can also be worth supplementing for you.
Zinc for Sleep and Testosterone
Zinc is a mineral and normally secreted by our sweat – this is one of the many reasons why athletes may be more susceptible to zinc deficiency (compared to non-trained individuals) (Source).
Although zinc sounds like a seemingly boring supplement, it is actually one of those nutritional supplements that have a major impact – especially if you want to train hard.
Studies show that ZMA can indeed help to increase testosterone levels.
Zinc and Sex Drive
One of the worse aspects of a strict and hard diet is the fact that your testosterone levels and your libido suffer from it.
– if you do not believe me, you should ask any bodybuilder, who is currently preparing for a bodybuilding competition –
There are many studies that clearly show that the supplementation of zinc during periods of high exercise load (high volume) and/or high-calorie deficit can be beneficial.
Studies show that zinc supplementation prevents the zinc level from falling and keeps them at a stable level. Also during a diet.
Zinc and Metabolism
Apart from the fact that your sex drive will suffer during hard training and diet cycles, there is also the danger that the thyroid values are affected.
And lowering thyroid hormones is exactly what you want to avoid at all costs.
Studies on athletes have shown that replacing the zinc losses caused by exercise (and heavy sweating) prevents the T4 and T3 levels (the latter being the more bioactive form of the testosterone) can be prevented.
In both studies, the doses administered were at a reasonable level – meaning that they are in the range of what you also find in normal zinc supplements.
In addition to maintaining thyroid function during hard training and diet, zinc can also improve glucose uptake into the cell.
Although current research is confined to studies in mice, it still seems to be a good idea to give a little extra attention to zinc levels in the brain.
Magnesium for Better Sleep and Higher Testosterone
Now enough about zinc, let’s dedicate ourselves to another mineral, which can be found in a significant amount in a ZMA product. Magnesium.
Magnesium (Mg2 +) is a mineral involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions and it plays an essential role in many areas of fundamental biological processes.
The most important aspects of magnesium supplementation are the effect on sleep and the signaling effect of insulin.
Magnesium and Sleep
Lifting heavy weights and eating a lot is generally a good idea if your goal is to build muscle.
But it’s all pointless if you stay awake all night and play Call of Duty.
Sleep is very important to maximize your gains and “secure the gains,”.
There are 2 well-controlled studies that examined the effect of magnesium supplementation on sleep.
People supplementing magnesium were able to improve their sleep quality and reduce cortisol levels during sleep, even though they had less than their desired sleep.
In another study, little magnesium supplementation showed improved sleep quality in people with magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium and Insulin
Like zinc, magnesium can be extremely important when it comes to maintaining insulin sensitivity.
Insulin works in the body by binding to the insulin receptor, then sending a signal through the cells to the glucose transporter (GLUT4).
Magnesium deficiency is known to interfere with this signal and reduce glucose processing.
In a randomized controlled trial, 63 subjects with type 2 diabetes and magnesium deficiency participated and showed an improvement in the signaling of insulin and glucose processing when they supplemented magnesium.
Well, whether that improves glucose processing in healthy people is unclear, but I would play it safe and maintain a normal level of magnesium.
Magnesium for Muscle Cramps
If you experience frequent muscle cramps magnesium supplements are often the solution.
Especially athletes who are currently on a strict diet and aim for low body weight, often suffer from magnesium deficiency.
Even with a high intake of magnesium, there are no side effects. However, diarrhea may occur in sensitive individuals.
Also, sodium deficiency in the blood can cause muscle cramps. Stretching the respective muscle group can release cramps.
Muscle cramps can be avoided by favoring magnesium-rich mineral waters and adequate calorie intake. Or, of course, by supplementing and eating the right foods.
Side Effects of ZMA?
Since ZMA is a combination of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6, it has little to no side effects.
All 3 ingredients are naturally present in the body and are important building blocks for various physical processes.
Those who stick to the recommended dosage should not experience any side effects.
In case of overdose, however, negative side effects of the individual elements may occur, such as diarrhea or allergic reactions.
What is the Best Dosage of ZMA?
Let’s get to the actual intake of ZMA.
While there is the patented version of ZMA, most companies sell some kind of ZMA. And most of them are pretty good and have similar dosages.
For example: Ultimate – Zinc: 10mg, Magnesium Aspartate: 150mg and Vitamin B6: 3.5mg
If you take 3 capsules: 30mg zinc, 450mg magnesium aspartate, 10.5g vitamin B6
That’s a good starting point. Most ZMA branded products have the same nutritional values, but are very different in price, as with protein.
Summary: ZMA for Better Sleep and Higher Testosterone?
Athletes who sweat a lot, but do not supplement any additional zinc or magnesium, run the risk of developing a deficiency.
Leading to an impairment of testosterone & thyroid levels, as well as worsening of the signal effect of insulin.
ZMA provides both elements in one product and thus represents a useful method of ingestion. (especially if you do not feel like swallowing 100 capsules a day).
You do not necessarily have to take ZMA if your nutrition is on point.
Also, you can buy each ingredient separately, it really doesn’t matter.
Do you take ZMA?
Did you find this review about ZMA helpful? It would be nice if you share it with friends and family (sharing is caring), or state your opinion in the comments.