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What Are the Benefits of ZMA Supplements?

by
author image Kieran O'Connor
A health and fitness freelance journalist, Kieran O'Connor began writing professionally in 2007, and has since been published in numerous magazines, including "Men's Health" and "House & Garden." He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and English literature from the University of Cape Town in 2006.
What Are the Benefits of ZMA Supplements?
Claims regarding ZMA's prohormone benefits may be misleading for recreational athletes. Photo Credit Dougal Waters/Digital Vision/Getty Images

ZMA supplements, in theory, offer an effective solution for athletes and bodybuilders who wish to enhance their performance naturally. However, while it comprises essential vitamins and minerals that are necessary for healthy bodily functions, there is a lot of controversy regarding its performance enhancement capabilities. Nonetheless, its value as a dietary supplement may make it worth considering.

Identification

ZMA is a supplement consisting of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6, all of which are vital for biological processes. It was developed in an attempt to provide athletes and bodybuilders with a means to prevent the loss of these vitamins and minerals through exercise, as well to promote additional benefits similar to those of prohormone drugs.

Function

Zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6 are all involved in metabolic processes of the body, and play a vital role in protein synthesis. During exercise these nutrients are lost, either through perspiration or metabolism. The function of ZMA supplementation then, is to replace these nutrients which, in turn, may facilitate a number of processes that may improve athletic performance.

Benefits

Proponents of ZMA supplements claim that it provides a number of benefits to athletes and body builders; these include better sleep and faster recovery, and more specifically, increased endurance and strength, as well as higher testosterone levels. In addition to these benefits, because ZMA is a natural testosterone boosting supplement, it is not banned by athletic organizations and is therefore a preferred substitute for athletes who wish to improve their performance without having to fear legal scrutiny.

The Facts

Lorrie Brilla, PhD, of Western Washington University and Victor Conte of Balco Labs in Burlingame, California conducted studies that sought to determine the effects of ZMA on strength and testosterone levels, the results of which supported the proposed claims. However, it's important to note that Conte himself developed ZMA and SNAC Systems, who happen to be patent holders of the ZMA brand and who funded the study. Contrary to their findings, independent studies conducted by Baylor University in Texas concluded that ZMA supplementation during training has no significant impact on muscle gain and athletic performance. Furthermore, according to research led by experts at the German Sport University of Cologne, “No significant changes in serum total and serum free testosterone were observed in response to ZMA use.”

Considerations

In spite of incongruent evidence, the intrinsic benefits of consuming ZMA -- apart from those associated with athletic performance -- should not be discarded. Vegetarians, pregnant women, gastrointestinal disease sufferers, the elderly and diabetics may benefit from consuming ZMA in order to combat deficiencies in any of its constituents. All of this, of course, merely goes to say that it's probably more appropriate to consider the benefits of ZMA as a dietary supplement, rather than as a performance enhancement.

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