Sometimes, we could all use a pick-me-up. During office hours, it’s a no-brainer to reach for a coffee to help get over the midday slump. But what should you be reaching for when it comes to gaining a little bit of an edge before or during a workout?

Some experts point to ZMA as a supplement that combines zinc monomethionine and magnesium aspartate with vitamin B-6. Creators of the supplement claim that by increasing these three nutrients in your system, you can build muscle strength and stamina, speed muscle recovery, and improve the quality of your sleep.

While all of these supposed benefits sound amazing, don’t start popping pills just yet. To date, there’s limited research on the benefits of ZMA. Keep reading to see if ZMA is right for you.

So What Is It, Really?

The natural mineral supplement has three main components: zinc, magnesium aspartate, and vitamin B-6.

Each ingredient plays a different role when it comes to your body. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, zinc supports the immune system, muscles, and testosterone levels. Magnesium boosts metabolism, muscle health, and even helps manage sleep. Vitamin B-6 helps form red blood cells, which can deliver oxygen to your muscles and increase endurance.

Since athletes often lose zinc and magnesium through sweat and urine after increased activity, experts point to ZMA as a way to get their zinc and magnesium levels back to normal and increase their red blood cell count.

What Are the Potential Benefits?

According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, deficiencies of zinc and magnesium aspartate decrease testosterone and insulin-like growth factor. So taking the supplement could help maintain hormone levels.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition reports that zinc and magnesium aspartate are not 100 percent proven to be effective in muscle building. But a 2000 study found a significant increase in NCAA football players’ testosterone and growth hormones, both of which are linked to muscle growth, after seven weeks of taking ZMA supplements. On the other hand, a study done in 2004 showed no benefits in training adaptations when ZMA was taken.

ZMA is also marketed as a supplement that can reduce catabolism. This is a process that breaks down your body and its muscles during a workout in order to release energy. While athletes can’t escape catabolism completely, the idea here is that the shorter the phase of catabolism, the faster your muscles can start repairing themselves, and the stronger you can become.

While a 1974 study found that 14 days of magnesium supplementation could reduce catabolism during training, no additional or recent evidence proves this claim.

The good news is, both athletes and nonathletes can appreciate that ZMA can boost the immune system. A zinc deficiency can prolong colds, cause muscle waste, and lower your appetite. Appropriate intake of the mineral can strengthen the immune system. Conversely, taking too much zinc can cause a range of problems as well.

Is ZMA Right for You?

More research is needed to fully determine the benefits of ZMA when it comes to athletics and strength training, but since no major side effects of ZMA have been reported, there’s probably no harm in trying the supplement out for yourself.

While taking a higher dosage than the manufacturer suggests could result in health concerns, taking the appropriate amount could lead to potential benefits and training gains. According to exercise physiologist Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., of Bodybuilding.com, the appropriate amounts are as follows.

Men: 30 mg of zinc, 450 mg of magnesium, and 10 to 11 mg of B-6

Women: 20 mg of zinc, 300 mg of magnesium, and 6 to 7 mg of B-6

Want to try the supplement out for yourself? Ask your doctor if ZMA could be right for you.

erin kelly

Erin Kelly is a writer, marathoner, and triathlete living in New York City. She can regularly be found running the Williamsburg Bridge with The Rise NYC, or cycling laps of Central Park with the NYC Trihards, New York City's first free triathlon team. When she isn't running, biking, or swimming, Erin enjoys writing and blogging, exploring new media trends, and drinking lots of coffee.