The name of the game in the supplement industry has always been creating the perfect anabolic environment. By now we are well aware that apart from supplying the nutrients we need to grow, that means obtaining the maximum of our hormone levels. And as far as hormones go, to bodybuilders testosterone is still top of the line. It is the base for the manufacture of anabolic steroids, and ever since their appearance the supplement industry has tried to provide safe alternatives. Though prohormones have taken the top spot in that category for the last few years, some still feel that exogenous substances have something “unnatural” about them. So these testosterone potentiators earned their place in the market as safe alternatives. Even to those who are strong believers in the power of prohormones, such as myself, these compounds have proven their worth as a way of maximizing the gains of andro and company and keeping natural testosterone high. Lots of these things have been thrown our way, it seems no matter what plant or mineral, being accredited with some kind of hormone boosting ability. In most cases minimal or non-existing. But in other cases they can be truly amazing. I present you with some of the favorites.
ZMA is the patented abbreviation for Zinc-monomethionine-aspartate, a mixture of 30 mg of the above mentioned mineral, 450 mg of magnesium aspartate and 10.5 mg of Vitamin B6 (pyrodoxine). Because of the patent on the name, it’s been awful funny watching companies come up with new ways of naming ZMA-containing products. I mean, really, how do you expect to sell a real product if you keep giving it names that seem more appropriate in a toy store or a cartoon show? But ZMA is revolutionary because it took one of the secrets of our sport (seems to be in fashion these days) and perfected it.
That zinc is important to the bodybuilder, most in our sport have known for ages, almost instinctively. The science behind the itch is that strenuous exercise tends to deplete body levels of zinc. So bodybuilders have considered zinc one of their most important supplements for a long time. Unfortunately, as those who read my article on milk know, the body prioritizes calcium over zinc and when the two enter the bloodstream simultaneously the zinc is just not absorbed. So why didn’t they take it without calcium? The pharmaceutical industry is why. These guys will do anything to make a buck. They are worse than the worst supplement companies. They find a cure for a disease, but hold it back (supposedly for in-house testing) to create hype, so that when it hits the market they can charge outrageous prices (make you think of any supplement company in particular?). But at the same time they try to cut costs on everything. When making pills and caps the cheapest thing to hold the whole thing together is … calcium!
Check the ingredients on any kind of pill or tab, and you will find that most contain at least some form of calcium (could be dicalcium or something of the sort). That’s why no one ever managed to take it without calcium. Even in 50 or 100 mg pills, it never exerted the effect that 30 mg of calcium-free zinc did. The only other way to bind the stuff was a costly procedure called chelation. Chelation fuses a mineral to an amino acid, in this case methionine, but just as easily aspartic acid or aspartame (to form the magnesium aspartate and some ZMAs even contain amounts of zinc aspartate as well, next to the actual ZMA). And voila, one of the most potent supplements is born. I wonder why no one ever thought of this before? I guess they had their eyes closed. Or was it their wallet?
Mono meaning single, only the methionine is of interest to us. If you read my feature on amino acids you are well aware of the things this essential amino acid can do. It was a logical choice in this matter. The first being that it removes heavy metals, like zinc, from the bloodstream and shuttles them into the cells. Not only do you now have effective zinc, it’s also bonded with the stuff that has to get it where its going. Big plus. The other reason is the role methionine plays in fat metabolization. By freeing more usable cholesterol, and at the same time letting zinc stimulate the production of LH from the anterior pituitary, you are optimizing circumstances for the manufacture of DHEA in the Leydig cells. It manufactures Cysteine (see article on amino acids) and consequently N-acetyl-Cysteine (see further in this article). And that it is one of three aminos needed to make creatine monohydrate is a nice bonus of course…
Magnesium is present in ZMA as magnesium aspartate, but there are many different forms of magnesium that would work equally well in this situation. Magnesium is an essential, and often neglected, mineral that is second only to potassium in the body, and ranks fourth among minerals in terms of needed intake. You need at least 400 mg to get by , and ZMA supplies 450 mg all by its lonesome. It is needed in bone, protein and fatty acid formation. The formation of protein increases muscle synthesis and the formation of fatty acids facilitates the formation of DHEA, which is no doubt one of the reasons Magnesium was selected as part of this powerful stack. But it has much more to offer, because it manufactures new red blood cells to enable more oxygen uptake, allows muscles to relax to avoid cramping and forms ATP for energy, as well as enabling insulin secretion and function. It is used in over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, including several in the Krebs cycle (the cycle that allows recyclation of ATP to complete long intense physical activity).
Deficiency is common, especially in older people, women with PMS and of course the hard-working athlete. It’s often missed by doctors because deficiency is often not located in the blood (where levels are often measured) but in intra-cellular fluid. Signs of a deficiency include fatigue, mental confusion, irritability , weakness, problems with muscle contraction and cramps, loss of appetite and being prone to stress. These are all symptoms that are best avoided by bodybuilders and since they are one of the categories most prone to deficiency that makes the magnesium a worthy addition to ZMA
Vitamin B6 (Pyrodixine)
Magnesium also increases activity of B-vitamins, and that may help since ZMA also contains 10.5 mg of pyridoxine. B6 is important in the formation of red blood cells, fat absorption and maintaining sodium and potassium levels. Fat absorption is especially important, because it can form more free cholesterol to transform to DHEA under the influence of LH, stimulated by zinc. It also alleviates mood-problems and loss of sex-drive. And I have this from sources in the medical community that B6 is often added to medication as a liver-detoxifier. So for those using it after a prohormone cycle, this is an added bonus.
ZMA is perhaps the best natural testosterone booster currently available. It’s definitely the best one I know of. When taking ZMA, simply observe the recommendations. Take it on an empty stomach (no calcium!) before bedtime. If you are on a bulking diet and consume your last weight gainer shake before bedtime, its best used after not eating for an hour to and hour and a half and a half hour prior to your last shake. By giving the ZMA a half hour to absorb and reach the receptors before washing it down with a shake rich in calcium is a good way of avoiding the calcium being absorbed before the zinc. After your shake, go to bed. The reason ZMA is best taken before sleeping is because it can make you very sleepy, and I doubt you would appreciate a 300-pound barbell crushing your sternum because you nodded off on the bench. As for amounts, just take one dose (30 mg ZMA / 450 mg magnesium aspartate / 10.5 mg B6). This may be 4 caps in one product, 3 in another, sometimes 2, and a single one even 6. But the simply take one dose every day before bedtime.
For prohormone users: Start a cycle of ZMA the last three days of your stack and continue it for 2-3 weeks after. This will guarantee you retain the maximum amount of mass and restore endogenous testosterone in the shortest amount of time. ZMA can raise natural testosterone levels overnight by as much as 30 percent.
Had you told me ten years ago that I could gain mass by eating Bulgarian plants, I’d have accused you of being one of those new-age homeopathic freaks. But like anyone I suppose, someone was bound to prove me wrong sometime. That’s nothing serious, anyone makes mistakes, but this was a really obvious one. Anything with the history of Trib has to have some merit. It was already being used a long time ago, and I mean a long time ago. The ancient Greeks used it as a diuretic. The Bulgarians were more open about there purpose: they used it as a potent sex-enhancer. And in this century natural healers used it to enhance mood and cure depression. Tests have shown that Trib does in fact contribute to a higher sperm count. Tribulus works its magic by stimulating the anterior pituitary to produce LH. If you want to know how LH produces testosterone, I refer you to my article on prohormones that includes a detailed description of the conversion.
Tribulus is a first choice addition to many pre-stacked prohormone formulas because it could keep natural testosterone high while taking andro-products. It is a well-documented risk of introducing exogenous hormonal substances (like steroids) that it shuts down the endogenous production of these substances. As the use of these products tapers down, it is essential that the endogenous production kicks back in as soon as possible because normal levels of these hormones are needed to maintain much of the gains made while taking them. Though the risk is small with prohormones, the gains are smaller too, and losing any percentage of them, no matter how small, is unacceptable. So Tribulus is a worthy addition to any stack.
Taking Tribulus by itself may be useful too for those not wishing to take prohormones for whatever reason. Since it is an all-natural stimulant there is no risk involved and even if higher doses don’t have the effect you would have liked them to, there is no downside to it. For people taking it by itself the effective dose is easily 1250-2000 mg depending on weight. For most serious athletes, taking 2000 on training days and 1500 on non-training days will work fine. For the people using it as part of a prohormone stack, take 500 mg when taking Nors and/or Andros, take 1000 mg when taking only Nors and take 2000 mg for 1-2 weeks after coming off a stack.
Acetyl-bonded amino acids
NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
Cysteine is very unstable, so NAC is the only form usable if you want the benefits of pure cysteine. NAC is manufactured from cysteine in the body and cysteine is found in a lot of food sources. I tried to get all the facts that I could on this supplement, and plenty of manufacturers claim that it may stop testosterone oppression as a side effect of intense training. But no one, not even my usual medical and scientific sources could explain how this is supposed to happen. As far as they are concerned NAC is only used as a way of treating bronchitis because it eliminates mucus. It’s often found in inhalers. So benefit or no, I would be careful about someone writing checks their ass can’t cash. The reason you should weigh off the use of NAC is that the more you take, the more zinc and copper you excrete in the urine. And as far as testosterone potentiators go, nothing outweighs zinc in my book.
Alittle product warning, some testosterone boosters, like Muscletech’s AcetaBolan II contain both ZMA and NAC, and both products counteract each other. This is once again proof that a million dollar research budget is no guarantee that it will actually be spent on research. Moreover Monomethionine (included in ZMA) will produce trace amounts of this stuff through a cysteine pathway, in most cases to excrete excess zinc. So why would you take more of it?
In my humble opinion, pure NAC is not worth the money. Especially not when there is ZMA and prohormones, and provided you stick to the rules and keep your workout within 45 minutes to an hour. If you do decide to use it, the recommended dose is 250-1500 mg daily. Normally you benefit from 500 to 750 mg, so more is really not needed unless you are dealing with a bronchitis.
As part of the carnitine-shuttle of getting fatty acids where they need to go, ALC is one of the prime metabolizers in their oxydation. By bonding L-carnitine to Acetyl it facilitates the removal and entry of acetyl from and to the cell fluid. Without the carnitine bonded to it, acetyl would not be able to penetrate the mitochondrial membranes.
Again all the sources were vague on the use of ALC as a supplement. There is a definite correlation between testosterone and ALC. Levels of ALC were significantly higher in people with higher testosterone, but noone seems to be able to tell whether ALC influences testosterone or testosterone that influences ALC. ALC was shown to be beneficial to sperm maturation, but this only worries me more because that would indicate that ALC has effect, not on free testosterone, but on DHT. DHT is responsible for all androgenic properties like sperm count, but also aggression and hair loss.
As with NAC, I wouldn’t advise the use of ALC as a seperate supplement, but because of its uses as a fatty acid oxydizer it may be a useful addition to some testosterone boosters. If you do decide that ALC is your thing, perhaps as a more stable form of the fat-burning amino acid L-carnitine, then doses of 500-1000 mg are advisable, but doses up to 2000 mg are not uncommon.
Maxing testosterone is one of the most sought after benefits of supplementation, but lets face it, as appealing as they make this stuff sound, it’ll never be anabolics. ZMA and tribulus are viable supplements that have proven their worth on the market and in real life, but fact remains they are supplements. ZMA especially will make for good gains testosterone-wise. But with the appearance of all these stack-products it has become a buyer beware state of affairs. I’ve found at least three supplements combining NAC and ZMA, which is a bad idea, and often times with much worse than that as well. If you have read all this and are interested in the benefits of a product, your best bet is probably to take the products individually. ZMA seems to exert a stronger anabolic effect by itself than when taken with any other supp. Tribulus on the other hand stacks well, but has little extra merit of taking it with other testosterone boosters. The last word hasn’t been said about this stuff, the attraction of testosterone is too great for that. It’s definitely the last I have to say about it.