ZMA (Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6) is a supplement used primarily by athletes, gymnasts, and bodybuilders. It advertises itself as a 'recovery aid' that allegedly helps the body achieve deeper levels of REM sleep. It was developed by Victor Conte (founder of BALCO Laboratories in Burlingame, California, and a felon who served time in prison in 2005 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering). ZMA claims to raise strength levels and enhance hormonal profiles. The study most often used to support the hormone effects of ZMA is one done at Western Washington University. Dr. Lorrie Brilla (and a ZMA supplement manufacturer) studied 12 NCAA division II football players who took ZMA nightly during an eight-week spring training program and a separate selected group assigned a placebo pill. The athletes taking the ZMA reportedly had 2.5 times greater muscle strength gains than the placebo group; the ZMA group increased by 11.6 percent compared to only 4.6 percent in the placebo group. The ZMA group also had 30 percent increases in testosterone levels (compared to 10 percent in the placebo group). However, one of the scientists who conducted the study holds the registered trademark for the original formula of ZMA, and his company funded the research, contrary to the best-practices in scientific research that avoids conflicts-of-interest.
Formula of the ZMA supplement
The original ZMA formula is composed of zinc monomethionine and aspartate (30 mg), magnesium aspartate (450 mg), and vitamin B6 as pyridoxine hydrochloride (10.5 mg). According to the label directions, ZMA should be taken 30 – 60 minutes prior to bedtime and on an empty stomach to help synchronise absorption with sleep. Also, the product should not be taken with foods or supplements containing calcium because calcium blocks the absorption of zinc.
Since ZMA is not a patented formula, other manufacturers can produce supplements using the original ZMA formula. However, as ZMA is a registered trademark of SNAC Nutrition (SNAC Systems Inc.), other manufacturers can only brand a product as ZMA, or use the term in marketing, when they have been licensed to do so by SNAC Nutrition. A number of manufacturers take the original ZMA formula and seek to enhance it with added ingredients. SNAC Nutrition itself has ZMA-5 (ZMA formula with 5-Hydroxytryptophan) marketed as a sleep enhancer and ZMA Nightcap (ZMA-based proprietary blend with 5-hydroxytryptophan) marketed as an anabolic mineral support. However it causes vivid dreams in subset of people.