Original Article: Physical
It’s not a prohormone, but ZMA sure works like one.
By Jordana Brown
WHAT IS IT?
A compound of zinc monomethionine aspartate, magnesium aspartate and vitamin B-6.
WHY SHOULD I TAKE IT?
The form of zinc used in ZMA appears to be more easily absorbed than other kinds, and the addition of vitamin B-6 is thought to increase the effectiveness of the minerals.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I TAKE?
Standard doses of ZMA contain 30 mg of zinc, 450 mg of magnesium and about 11 mg of vitamin B-6. It has been shown that people have a deeper sleep when they take magnesium in the evenings. Brilla advises taking it on an empty stomach an hour or two before bed. But skip the warm milk nightcap, as calcium can interfere with zinc and magnesium absorption.
The first thing you need to know about ZMA is that it has absolutely nothing to do with a certain clear malt beverage that was popular for about five minutes in 1993 (that was Zima). The second thing you need to know is that, while bodybuilding may be full of incomprehensible-sounding acronyms (e.g., BCAA, AAKG, AKIC), ZMA simply stands for "zinc magnesium aspartate," and if two of those words seem familiar, they should - they're the same familiar minerals you think they are. Lorrie Brilla, PhD, a professor at Western Washington University, told us more about this potent supplement.
A groundbreaking research study on the effects of ZMA was conducted by Brilla, who published the results in the Journal of Exercise Physiology in 2000. According to her, "It found that when varsity football athletes who were doing a workout in the morning and a workout in the afternoon [took ZMA], their testosterone levels did not drop as much as typically is seen." In fact, levels of testosterone and growth hormone (both of which are intimately linked to muscle growth) increased in those subjects taking the supplement and actually decreased in the control group, most likely as a result of the intense training.
It's not difficult to see why ZMA, though not a prohormone, would behave like one in the body. As Brilla explains, "Zinc is involved in protein synthesis as well as maintaining various hormone levels, like testosterone." Specifically, zinc affects the way the body uses testosterone, preventing it from changing into a bad form of the hormone, thereby keeping overall levels up. Magnesium also has various muscle-boosting effects, being a key player in the pathways that initiate muscle growth.
However, there's a very specific reason why these minerals influenced such impressive changes in Brilla's study: Her subjects were deficient in zinc and magnesium.
"But I eat clean," you're saying. "Surely I'm not deficient in two basic minerals." You could easily be wrong, especially if you hit it hard in the gym. There is ample evidence, including that offered by Brilla's study, that hard-core training depletes both zinc and magnesium. If you're not replenishing it through dietary choices, then you're not giving your muscles everything you can to make them bigger and more powerful.
ZMA is a more easily absorbed form of zinc and magnesium.
ZMA helps boost testosterone and ease muscle cramps.
A great time to take ZMA is one or two hours before bed.