ZMA’s: Do They Work?

The following article is not a paid advertisement, nor am I sponsored by any supplement companies to promote their products.

ZMA’s have been a bit of a hot topic of discussion for a while now. Some kingpins in the fitness industry as well as lifters of all kinds swear by them. Others think ZMA’s are a joke, and are unnecessary so long as your diet is on point. So what the hell is this pill that’s all the hubbub?

ZMA is really just a combination of two minerals and one vitamin that, while crucial to your diet, can still be lacking: Zinc (Z), Magnesium Aspartate (MA) and Vitamin B6. Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits of each individual mineral as pertains to the purpose of this supplement:

  • Zinc – required for cellular growth, nervous system maintenance and a strong immune system. Since the body does not produce zinc on its own, we need to increase the zinc in our bodies with food. Main food sources include: red meat, poultry and seafood, in particular oysters.
  • Magnesium – required for bone strength, calms nerves and relaxes your muscles, which also proves beneficial for loosening your stools.
  • Vitamin B6 – may reduce depression symptoms and improve your mood. Food sources include: poultry, salmon, potatoes and bananas, making it pretty easy to obtain enough of this Vitamin throughout the day.
Oysters are considered to be a main source of Zinc. Too bad I won’t touch ’em!

There’s also a lot of talk regarding the potential benefits of inclidung ZMA’s in your own regimen. These include:

  • Improved Sleep (Magnesium)
  • Increased Testosterone Levels (Zinc)

The jury however, is still on the fence about ZMA’s, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. According to a randomized controlled trial, going all the way back to the tail end of 2004, forty one healthy, injury free males between the ages of 18 and 50 were split into two groups with each group being assigned to take either a dextrose placebo or a commercially available ZMA supplement 30 – 60 minutes before going to sleep for eight weeks. According to the results of that study “Results of the present study do not support contentions that ZMA supplementation increases zinc or magnesium status and/or affects training adaptations in experienced resistance trained males with normal zinc status. These findings are in contrast with the notion that ZMA supplementation can increase zinc and magnesium status, anabolic hormone status, and/or strength gains during training”.

According to another, more recent study using a similar RCT format, eighteen football players between the ages of 18 and 25 were also assigned to take either a ZMA or a placebo for eight weeks. It’s important to note that their diets were designed by a nutritionist. In the end, the testosterone levels in both groups saw a similar increase. This led to the conclusion that “extra doses of the micronutrients present in the ZMA do not bring any additional benefits, either in the body composition or in the hormonal levels in subjects under adequate diet”.

So what about this pill’s supposed ability to help you sleep? After all, for every person who claims to have wild dreams with spin off episodes, there are just as many that’ll tell you it’s all in your head. Just remember what I mentioned earlier about Magnesium acting as a muscle relaxer. Taking Magnesium before you sleep will help you fall asleep much faster.

The Verdict

In terms of whether or not a supplement as controversial as ZMA works, I can only speak from my own personal experience. I began using ZMA via the suggestion of a powerlifter once I realized that taking melatonin before bed post workout would no longer work (a story for another time). So I brought the True Athlete brand and, upon going to bed after my next day of training I proceeded to ingest three pills as instructed. It was one of the deepest sleeps I’d had in a long time.

Ok so it wasn’t this deep of a sleep. But I definitely can say I’m out or the count!

To address that claim of having wild dreams: it’s true as far as I’m concerned! My dreams have been a little too vivid at times. All too real. And sometimes that’s not a good thing, believe me.

What’s important to remember is that ZMA is a supplement. While most supplements are mere snake oil, I feel like it can be beneficial, especially for those who don’t or cannot get enough Magnesium or Zinc on their diets for any number of reason. Zinc and Magnesium are found in Oysters and Salmon, respectively, and I for one do not eat seafood. Also, for some who might be reading this, certain foods, such as red meat can be a a little expensive.

In regards to increases in my testosterone; I don’t know that taking these increased my strength levels. Any alleged testosterone booster won’t do that anyway. But I might’ve noticed changes elsewhere upon waking up. I’ll just leave it at that.

As for it’s ability to help you sleep. Let’s get this clear now: ZMA is not a sleep aid. However, with a dosage of 450mg for men and 300mg for women (if you take the True Athlete brand), you’re taking in just over the Recommended Daily Amounts (RDA) per gender. That’s more than enough to relax you just before bed.

To finish this off, while I don’t believe that ZMA is ideal as an strength booster, I do believe it helps me relax after I’m finished with my training sessions. However, at the end of the day, you should be your own judge and see for yourself if you wish. I speak as someone who really doesn’t rely on supplements the way I did when I was younger. But if you’re lucky, you might have a good night’s sleep.

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