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ZMA vs Testosterone Boosters - What's the Better Option?  

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

Low testosterone production is a serious problem for many men, and most of my male clients have no idea that they could risk all sorts of health and fitness problems once they hit 30.

While you can buy natural testosterone boosters, some people try to simplify things with zinc and magnesium supplements.

But the question many of my clients have is whether they should take both.

We decided to have a nutritionist give us some info on the exercise physiology of these supplements.

Quick Summary

  • Low testosterone levels can create health barriers for multiple aspects of men’s health and general well-being. 
  • Testosterone boosters aim to use natural herbs to boost production and maintain higher T-levels without the use of steroids. 
  • Zinc and magnesium play a key role in total testosterone, and many athletes rely on these minerals for their recovery time as well.

How Do Testosterone Boosters Work?

shirtless man showing a capsule

The majority of testosterone boosters work by using natural ingredients to stimulate two important functions in the male body.

Let me explain.

Boosted Free Testosterone Levels

These dietary supplements often contain proven ingredients that send signals to the testicles and adrenal glands to ramp up testosterone production.

These are completely natural processes and don’t involve introducing steroids or synthetic hormones.

That’s an important part to understand as these boosters have a gradual effect and often take 4 to 8 weeks to make a meaningful difference.

But just boosting your serum T-levels isn’t going to be enough.

Here’s why.

Slowed Testosterone Transformation

Your body naturally recycles testosterone and transforms some of it into estrogen.

This happens through the sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which attaches to testosterone cells. It then breaks it up and releases estrogen.

But boosters aim to disrupt that process by disabling some of the SHBG. In other words, these boosters bind to SHBG, so there is a reduced chance of testosterone transformation.

It’s important to understand that even an increased production doesn't mean better muscle building if a lot of that new production ends up wasted.

How Would You Increase Testosterone?

Here’s the thing, T-boosters and ZMA supplements are not just useful for NCAA football players and other elite athletes.

Anyone with fitness goals can achieve health and performance benefits when they increase testosterone in the body.

There are very good reasons to take both of these supplements, but you need to be very careful not to end up with a zinc intake that’s too high.


References:

  1. https://www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122(16)30297-3/fulltext
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6316093/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6191980/

Typical Testosterone Booster Ingredients

ginger, ashwagandha and fenugreek

Here are the most common ingredients that you’ll find in testosterone boosters.

Tribulus Terrestris

While there are more animal studies than human ones, the one, in particular, has linked Tribulus to an improved libido and sexual function [1].

There are also links to it helping with blood sugar levels, which is positive for weight management.

D-Aspartic Acid

This may help to stimulate the luteinizing hormones, which are indirect messengers to the testicles. They stimulate testosterone production to increase the amount of free testosterone.

“Luteinizing hormone (LH) is produced and released in the anterior pituitary gland. This hormone is considered a gonadotrophic hormone because of its role in controlling the function of ovaries in females and testes in males.”

- Hormone.org

Ginger

Yes, this simple herb has many proven benefits, from antioxidant to anti-inflammatory.

But its most surprising secret weapon is that it might have a significant effect on testosterone [2]. It’s safe and very easy to add to your diet as well.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is another herb from traditional medicine that has a proven impact on your T-levels [3].

It’s quite a bit more difficult to get this in places like Whole Foods, but it’s often part of a combination in supplements.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is a common herb in Africa and parts of Asia and has long been used for male fertility and libido. It may also provide more energy for all physical activities, not just those in the bedroom.

There are probably more common ingredients out there, but because of limited research, we decided not to list them here.

Now it’s time to look at zinc and magnesium specifically.

What Does Taking ZMA Do For The Body?

man working out with ropes

Zinc Magnesium Aspartate (ZMA) is a dietary supplement that may influence sex hormone production and muscle functions.

Ultimately, this combination can lead to improved fat loss and exercise performance, and recovery.

Here’s what it does.

Hormone Production

Taking ZMA may have quite a strong effect on your overall hormone levels and not just T-levels.

This trace mineral is a key building block, and no matter how many signals you send to your testicles to boost production, there’s going to be a problem if there’s not enough zinc.

That’s why ZMA supplementation is often the first thing nutritionists and medical doctors recommend for low T-levels.

Muscle Function

Zinc and magnesium are popular supplement combination for many high-performance athletes. This is mainly down to the importance that magnesium plays in general muscle function and recovery.

If you’ve ever had regular cramps after training hard, then that’s most likely down to a magnesium deficiency.

The ultimate effect of this is that you’ll feel less sore after training, and you’ll also improve your performance in your next training session.

People also take magnesium as a sleep aid as it relaxes muscles quite effectively.

Other Health Benefits Of ZMA

man showing his muscles

OK, so I’ve mentioned that magnesium and zinc play a role in muscle growth and relaxation, as well as being a building block of hormones.

Let’s take a look at what else they might do.

Zinc

ZMA supplements, along with other nutrients like vitamin B6, C, and D3, may provide quite a significant immune system boost.

Many people only focus on vitamin C, but in reality, it's the combination of all three with zinc that makes your immune system stronger.

There’s also a link to wound healing through improved growth hormone availability. This is particularly important as you grow older as these common functions tend to slow down with age.

Magnesium Aspartate

The main reason that athletes take magnesium is to aid muscle recovery. It works as a muscle relaxant and also plays a role in protein synthesis that repairs and builds new muscle fibers.

Ultimately, that will lead to more muscle strength, and you’ll find that you suffer less from fatigue if you train most days of the week.

What’s equally important for athletes is that magnesium may also help enhance sleep quality. And sleep quality is a vital part of exercise recovery.

If you don’t get a good night’s sleep after every training session, then you’ll notice the difference the next day.

FAQs

Are Testosterone Boosters Safer to Take than a Zma Supplement?

No, testosterone boosters aren’t necessarily safer to take than a ZMA supplement. Zinc and magnesium are very common minerals that you find in health and fitness supplements, and they generally don’t cause side effects.

How Quickly Does Zma Work?

ZMA can take 4 to 8 weeks to work and show signs of improving T-levels. But it should only take a few days or weeks to notice the difference it makes on your muscle recovery and your sleep patterns.

Choosing The Right Supplement For Your Needs

containers of capsules

So, I want to get back to something I mentioned at the start.

Many of my clients ask whether they should pick a T-booster or some zinc and magnesium supplements.

My answer usually is that it depends, and often I recommend both.

Let me explain.

Choosing T-Boosters

The obvious reason to take a T-booster is to increase testosterone levels. If your goal is building muscle mass, then this is going to be a must-have supplement in your stack.

It’s equally important for any men over 30 who have been struggling with weight management.

Check out our article on the best testosterone boosters on the market.

Choosing ZMA

Boosting your levels of magnesium and zinc should also positively impact your T-levels, but it comes with the added bonus of improving your sleep quality and speeding up your muscle recovery time.

Check out our article on the best ZMA supplements on the market.

Choosing Both

Both of the above will bring you maximum benefits for training, weight loss, and recovery.

But you have to be careful about overlapping ingredients.

Any T-booster that we recommend also contains some zinc. And too much zinc could cause an upset stomach and cramping.

To avoid high doses, always compare the label between your supplements to look for similarities.

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