With my summer workout program in full swing, before I got started, I was researching pre-/post-workout supplements to help with soreness, muscle and glycogen recovery, and to aid in improved cellular function. From my previous years in the gym, I already knew that most post-workout supplements that enhance recovery, guarantee no muscle soreness, and all that junk are just that, junk. They’re supplements sold to Delta Bravos who will believe just about anything because it says it on a bottle, so I set out to find things that were well received in the weightlifting world — meaning reputable sites such as Amazon and Bodybuilding.com had dozens of reviews — and was backed by scientific evidence, hopefully. And if the supplement had any other effects, such as aiding in a most restful sleep or stuff like that, all the better I thought. So after searching and searching, I somehow stumbled onto ZMA, a mineral blend purported to both increase testosterone production, with the side effect of helping you sleep better.
ZMA itself is just a blend of the minerals Zinc, Magnesium and Aspartate, a non-essential amino acid which has been identified to aid in gluconeogenesis and acts as a precursor acid to other amino acids in the body. Both zinc and magnesium — chemically similar minerals — play vital functions in the body in that they aid in muscular repair and development, amongst other roles. So basically I found a compound made up of three minerals that all play some part in cellular reproduction, muscular regeneration, and ATP or glucose production? Count me in! I then proceeded to read every review about ZMA I could find that provided both reviews of actual products and user reviews on its purported effects. After all, if its claims of increasing testosterone production, decreasing muscle soreness and/or increasing muscular repair, and better, deeper sleep were true, every gymrat and Delta Bravo would be taking it, right? Turns out, a lot of people are taking it, I must have hundreds of reviews over the course of two weeks, almost all of which were positive and those that were not either believe they did not take it correctly — take on an empty stomach, especially one free of any calcium-heavy foods — or that the particular brand of ZMA just sucked. I even scoured Mark’s Daily Apple and Robb Wolf’s site for recommendations, since I knew both would have covered it one point and what I found on their sites was promising, based on their reviews of the scientific materials. I was still skeptical of its benefits but hey, ZMA is cheap so it couldn’t hurt to try it.
So I went and bought a 90 count bottle of NOW Foods ZMA, linked above. At the suggested dosage of 3 per night, that would give me 30 days of intake to help gauge its effectiveness. NOW Foods’ is a proprietary blend of ZMA itself with a kick of vitamin B6 thrown in as seems to be common in the supplement. I was totally geeked up to try this stuff, mostly because I was amped about the potential for getting a more restful night’s sleep. For me, the muscular benefits ended up being secondary because muscle soreness is always going to occur if you’re working out, and you can speed it up by eating lots of good quality protein which is almost impossible to screw up on the primal diet. Per the instructions on the bottle, I made sure to pop 3 capsules about 30 minutes before I planned on going to bed and I made sure it had been many hours since I ate (and I totally made sure) and sure enough, about 35 minutes after taking the ZMA, I felt extremely sleepy and was definitely ready for bed. I kind of felt like I’d taken an Ambien because it came out of nowhere and was a heavy drowsy feeling, so I high-tailed my ass to bed to take advantage of this. I don’t recall sleeping any better than normal or experiencing any of the weird dreams some people reported, I just slept hard. Like a rock.
Unfortunately, that was also the only time I ever experienced that feeling. I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t ensure my stomach was completely empty every time I took ZMA or if it was basically a bunch of baloney. I continued with the dosage until I finished the bottle off and I honestly cannot tell you truthfully if I ever experienced any differences in sleep quality or how my body felt after a day at the gym. Well, turns out the claims about increasing testosterone are effectively unfounded. The studies linked to PubMed do state that there may be some increased effects in sufficiently zinc deficient people but anyone eating a healthy diet with a moderate amount of green leafy vegetables or taking just about any multivitamin isn’t going to be zinc deficient in any way. And if they’re one of the guys pretending to be a bodybuilder in the gym, they’re in the zone of zinc toxicity, if anything. And the effects of aspartate may increase testosterone, according to the studies, but it would need to be delivered in much higher doses than currently delivered. NOW Foods’ ZMA blend delivers 2.4 grams of their proprietary blend, so you have exactly no idea how much of any particular mineral you’re actually getting, so there’s no way you can manipulate intake to increase efficacy. My guess is that since their product includes 450mg of magnesium and 30mg of zinc in addition to the ZMA blend (comprised of 4 minerals), you’re getting very little aspartate overall.
Would I buy this again? Not unless NOW Foods’ published their blend contents or the supplement industry at large began heavily loading these ZMA blends with higher levels of aspartate or in much higher doses than 2400mg — I think I saw one product that was 3000mg total, the rest of the field were 2400mg and less. Do I think ZMA can help a certain portion of the population? Yes, it can probably help all the obese people in America whose diets consist of Diet Coke and Twinkies but other than that, no, it’s only going to help NOW Foods and their bottom line.
Disclaimer: I paid for this item myself and was not provided anything by anyone, except by the UPS guy who delivered the box from Amazon. While I only reviewed one product from one company, the information applies to all ZMA supplements currently available.