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Zinc is an essential mineral, which means your body doesn’t produce it on its own. You need to get zinc from your diet. Zinc is also an antioxidant; it maintains cellular health and longevity by reducing the damaging effects of free radicals. Zinc also influences hormonal regulation by playing a key role in the release of IGF-1 and testosterone, which help to build and maintain muscle.
According to the USDA, most people do not get sufficient zinc in their diet, getting less than two-thirds of what is recommended. Athletes and vegetarians have higher zinc deficiencies which decreases their performance and impairs immune function.
If you want peak performance while building and maintaining muscle, zinc should be on your radar.
Builds Muscle Mass
Zinc plays a role in increasing two hormones that influence building muscle which are insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and testosterone.
The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University outlines that zinc fulfils three functional roles which are necessary in the development of muscle. These functional roles improve muscle protein synthesis and are the reasons why increasing your intake of zinc in combination with resistance training will help to build muscle mass, especially due to how zinc influences hormone release.
Research has shown that zinc deficiency adversely affects growth by reducing the anabolic response to food caused by a reduced capacity for and activation of protein synthesis. This adverse effect on growth may be caused by impaired insulin secretion which is a key component to gain muscle mass.
Zinc promotes levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a hormone that is released after resistance training that helps to promote the growth of muscle. When individuals are deficient in zinc, circulating levels of IGF-1 are decreased, suggesting that zinc is essential for IGF-1 induction of cell proliferation. Zinc may also help in the process of elevating serum testosterone. The significance of increasing IGF-1 and testosterone hormones is that they are both anabolic factors which build muscle mass, improve muscle function and athletic performance.
In addition, research has shown that zinc significantly reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is beneficial because chronically high levels of cortisol can affect your ability to put on muscle.
Maintains Muscle Mass
Zinc plays an antioxidant role in maintaining cellular health and longevity. By reducing cellular breakdown and slowing down the aging process, zinc protects against muscle loss. Oxidative stress occurs from a build-up of damaging reactive oxygen species which damages and breaks down healthy cells. As an antioxidant, zinc slows down the oxidative process which reduces muscle degeneration from damaging oxidative stress, thereby maintaining muscle strength and mass.
Improves Physical Performance
Sufficient levels of zinc can improve physical performance across a variety of factors. Zinc supplementation has been shown to improve aerobic capacity – measured by VO2 max, decrease lactate levels and delay exhaustion among physically active individuals. It has also been shown to improve muscle strength, basal metabolic rate, and protein use.
In addition to directly influencing performance, zinc strengthens your immune system keeping you healthy and in your best physical state to perform and recover. Zinc can even protect from injury by improving bone health. When athletes are deficient in zinc, they increase their risk of decreasing bone mineral density and bone fractures. Zinc supplementation can prevent these risks because it improves bone density.
Reduces Body Weight
The results of a randomized, double- blind clinical trial suggested that zinc supplementation improves BMI and body weight. However, more evidence would be needed to prove the efficacy of this.
Dietary Sources of Zinc
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of zinc for adult men is 11 mg/ day and for adult women is 8 mg/day. Children require between 2-11 mg/day dependent on their age and gender.
The best way to increase your zinc intake is to find it in whole, natural foods. Oysters, red meat and chicken offer significant amounts of zinc. Yet, you can also get zinc from eggs, pumpkin seeds and cashews. The bioavailability of zinc is higher in seafood, meat and eggs compared to whole grains and legumes which have properties that can reduce zinc absorption.
The top dietary sources of zinc, per a 3-ounce serving include:
- Oysters: 74 mg
- Chuck Roast: 7 mg
- Alaska King Crab: 6.5 mg
- Lamb: 2.9 mg
- Grass-fed Beef: 2.6 mg
- Dark Meat Chicken: 2.4 mg
- Skinless Chicken Breast: 1 mg
- Turkey: 1 mg
- Salmon: 0.5 mg
- Egg (1 large): 0.6 mg
- Chickpeas (1 cup cooked): 2.5 mg
- Cashews (1/4 cup): 1.9 mg
- Pumpkin Seeds (1/4 cup): 1.6 mg
- Yogurt (6 ounces): 1 mg
- Mushrooms (1 cup): 0.6 mg
Zinc is one of the essential minerals that is typically low in the diets of athletes, because athletes tend to sweat it out. Athletes on a vegan or vegetarian diet should be especially concerned with their zinc intake since the bioavailability of zinc is higher in animal product foods.
There is conflicting advice when it comes to zinc supplementation, due to the fact that it can affect your ability to absorb essential nutrients. The American Dietetic Association cautions athletes not to take single dose zinc supplementation because it can impair the absorption of essential nutrients including copper and iron. This is due to the fact that these single dose zinc supplements have more than 40 mg which is the tolerable upper intake level of zinc. in addition, overconsuming zinc can lead to lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – otherwise known as the ‘good’ cholesterol.
The side effects of taking more than the tolerable amount of 40 mg could result in stomach cramps, headache, nausea or diarrhea. Plus, over time you may reduce your levels of copper and HDL.
If you do supplement with zinc, it is advised to additionally take copper, aiming to get the ratio suggested by the RDA guidelines which is approximately 1 mg of copper for every 15 mg of zinc.
A popular zinc supplement is zinc monomethionine aspartate (ZMA), it’s a blend of zinc magnesium and B-6.
One study measured the effects of ZMA supplementation on NCAA football players and found that it significantly increased levels of testosterone by more than 30% and IGF-1 by about 5%. In addition, those who supplemented with ZMA increased strength and power.
If you are simply looking for a zinc supplement, zinc gluconate is absorbed well.
Get it: Zinc Gluconate