Zinc Supplements for Strength and Muscle

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Zinc is an essential mineral element naturally present in foods like meats, seafood, nuts, beans, and seeds. Zinc is involved in essential body processes such as wound healing, the immune system, protein building, and growth and development in childhood and pregnancy, as well as being involved in numerous enzyme processes.

Because of the way zinc is stored throughout the body, there is no easy way to determine zinc adequacy by blood or tissue measurement. This causes imprecise estimates of zinc status in individuals.

Importantly for this discussion, zinc helps the body manufacture the male hormone testosterone. Inadequate zinc intake could mean low testosterone production, poor growth and muscle building, and low sexual drive.

Zinc Supplements for Bodybuilders and Strength Athletes

The recommended daily requirements for zinc are not large: 11 milligrams for men and 8 milligrams for women, with a little more during pregnancy and lactation. Most people can reach these intakes with healthy eating. However, some groups may need to take more care. Vegetarians and vegans can be deficient and some suggest that athletes who do hard physical training for several hours each day may need extra zinc because some is lost in sweat.

Even so, there is little evidence that taking zinc supplements well in excess of the recommended daily amount results in any performance enhancement for either sports performance or muscle building.

The Safety of Zinc Supplements

Taking zinc supplements in excess of 40 milligrams/day for men and women may not be safe on a long-term basis. This is the upper limit of safety set by most government authorities. At very high doses, zinc can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. With lesser amounts, zinc can block other essential minerals like copper, and cholesterol status can be adversely affected, especially the good, high-density cholesterol.

Oysters are very high in zinc, especially from polluted waters. Some individual oysters may contain 10 milligrams or more each.

One unresolved issue is whether a high zinc intake could aggravate urinary problems, including benign and cancerous prostate conditions, or whether zinc supplements could indeed be beneficial as suggested by some authorities. A cautious approach might mean that you minimize supplemental zinc intake.

Zinc may also interfere with some medications including penicillamine and antibiotics, and diuretic drugs can deplete zinc levels.

Bottom Line

Overall, if you eat a healthy diet with an array of foods, you are unlikely to be zinc deficient. Even athletes and weight trainers who usually consume more food to power their activity are likely to meet their zinc requirements because of the extra food (and zinc) they consume. Vegetarians and other groups with restrictive diets may need to take a lot more care with their zinc intake.

Even so, if you are tempted to supplement, check with your doctor or keep it within the limits of a good multivitamin tablet.

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Article Sources
  • Koehler K, Parr MK, Geyer H, Mester J, Schänzer W. Serum testosterone and urinary excretion of steroid hormone metabolites after administration of a high-dose zinc supplement. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007 Sep 19.
  • Moyad MA. Zinc for prostate disease and other conditions: a little evidence, a lot of hype, and a significant potential problem. Urol Nurs. 2004 Feb;24(1):49-52. Review.