I’ve been taking ZMA supplements for a while now and would consider it to be one of the essentials within my regular stack of supplements.
If you want improved sleep and better muscle recovery, as well as a range of other benefits, you might like to try it too.
Zinc and magnesium are critical minerals that can be hard to achieve optimal doses of in a typical diet. ZMA is a really simple and effective way to ensure that you consume effective amounts of both.
What is ZMA?
ZMA is a supplement including zinc (‘Z’), magnesium (‘M’) and vitamin B6. It is a patented formulation used by many supplement brands.
Together, zinc and magnesium are involved in functions within the body far too numerous to cover here in depth. They are crucial for immune function, hormone regulation, cognitive function, protection against oxidative stress, normal protein synthesis and sleep, leading to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue, as well as improved recovery from exercise.
ZMA is most commonly associated with sleep improvement. However, it is often marketed as supporting healthy testosterone levels. Low level intakes of dietary zinc are associated with low testosterone, and therefore studies show that ZMA can be beneficial to males with low testosterone levels. It is unclear from research whether there are benefits to testosterone levels beyond this.
It is important to recognise that ZMA is not a hormone in itself and won’t have steroid-like effects for women. In fact, it’s incredibly important that women maintain healthy hormone levels, including testosterone, even though the amounts are different to those of men.
The ‘A’ in ZMA stands for aspartate. Zinc, and sometimes magnesium depending on the formulation, is chemically bound with aspartic acid to create zinc aspartate, to create a more bioavailable (easily-absorbed) form of the mineral.
Vitamin B6 aids magnesium uptake and utilisation in the body.
Who Should Take ZMA
Everyone. ZMA is one of the supplements that I would consider really important and always ensure that it is part of my supplement stack. For friends and family who ask where to start with supplements, I always recommend that ZMA, alongside a couple of other supplements, are a good foundation.
Particularly if you are very active and/or train a lot, ZMA will be beneficial in aiding recovery. ZMA is most typically deficient in athletes, those who sweat a lot, and vegetarians/vegans.
How + When to Take ZMA
Instructions tend to suggest that ZMA is taken 30-60 minutes before bed, because of its role in aiding good sleep.
ZMA should not be taken with dairy or any other calcium-containing food or supplements. This is because calcium blocks the absorption of zinc and magnesium. It’s often recommended that ZMA is taken on a completely empty stomach for optimal absorption.
The dilemma here, is that many people who actively train like to have a protein shake from a dairy source (whey or casein) before bed, also to aid recovery.
The best solution here, is to take ZMA on an empty stomach 60 minutes before bed, and then drink your protein shake right before you go to sleep (but before brushing your teeth, of course!).
As well as competing with calcium for absorption, zinc also competes with copper for absorption in the intestine. Therefore, some experts caution about taking zinc supplementation, because it can lead to a copper deficiency.
You might like to consider taking magnesium supplements in isolation occasionally in order to still reap some sleep and recovery benefit, or try supplement with copper too if this is an area of concern for you.
Where to buy ZMA
ZMA is widely available on most sports supplements websites. I tend to stock up on ZMA from MyProtein as I frequently place orders there. Sometimes I'll also buy MyProtein's ZMA from Amazon. 90 capsules can be picked up for around £11.49, although I tend to buy pots of 270 capsules, which are better value.
The most obvious way that taking ZMA has helped me is through better sleep.
My sleep cycle used to be terrible to the point where I would get anxiety about going to bed, knowing that I’d be lying awake for ages.
Taking ZMA helped me get to sleep quicker, sleep deeper and through that, establish a more stable sleep cycle. I also feel more alert upon waking in the morning.
This has in turn improved my recovery from training as well as my general mood and energy levels.
Have you tried ZMA supplements? Leave me a comment below or tweet me @_nataliejohanna to let me know how they have helped you!