Bodybuilding is the ultimate “show me” sport—it’s about getting huge and ripped and getting noticed. In bodybuilding one maxim holds true: If you’re not seen, you’re forgotten, and it’s star power that steals the spotlight.
Like bodybuilders, supplements compete for the spotlight, with breakthrough ingredients like the latest creatine, nitric oxide stimulator or designer hormone often pushing the older and less glamorous ingredients to the side and into forgotten, invisible and nearly irrelevant status. Yet being out of sight and out of mind doesn’t mean being unimportant. In the case of zinc, a gray-blue metal that hardly gets any spotlight, the maxim has never been more true. It may not occupy the spotlight, but it’s one of the most important supplements for bodybuilders.
Although zinc is a small and unassuming mineral, it’s a powerhouse—the real workhorse of all minerals—that produces massive and noticeable effects. Here’s what it does:
Fuels testosterone production
Strengthens your immune system
Heightens your brain function and the mind/muscle connection
Fortifies your prostate
Testosterone production. Zinc is best known for its effects on big T—mainly that it fuels testosterone production, keeping your count high so that you can train hard and build muscle.
Immunity. Training hard seriously stresses your immune system and makes you sweat. While hard training is good for you, provided that you employ a rock-solid recovery strategy, sweating can cause you to become deficient in zinc because you lose the mineral through perspiration.
Your immune system uses zinc to make more than 300 enzymes and amines that spark millions of chemical reactions in your body—including those that cause muscle growth. While heavy workouts stimulate oxidant production—reactive oxygen species, or ROS, that can damage your muscles, organs and DNA—zinc is a powerhouse antioxidant that scavenges your body for those harmful oxidants, protecting you from damage and keeping your immune system strong.
Brain sharpness and the mind/muscle connection. Muscle building is as much about muscle as it is about mind—as much about brain as body. Your brain is heavily concentrated in zinc, and zinc is important for keeping your brain sharp and efficient, so it plays a big role in the generation and transmission of brain signals for optimal muscle contraction.
The mind/muscle connection needs one specific brain chemical: dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that gets you focused, energized and makes your mind/muscle connection as strong as the iron you’re lifting. Zinc keeps dopamine measures high during times of stress—like when you’re training—increasing your ability to build quality muscle.
Prostate health. If you’re a male, your prostate is critically important, regardless of your age, fitness or previous health history. The fact is, you need a healthy prostate even if you don’t pound out rep after rep in gut-busting workouts. With most bodybuilders, the prostate doesn’t get much attention for the same reason zinc doesn’t: It’s out of sight and out of mind. Well, that doesn’t mean your prostate is unimportant. In fact, it needs to be healthy if you want to grow serious muscle.
Your prostate has the highest zinc concentration of any body tissue, and zinc plays a critical role in keeping it healthy the way that it keeps your immune system healthy—by scavenging for, and protecting you from, harmful oxidants that can damage your tissues and DNA—damage that can eventually lead to prostate cancer.
Thirty-three percent of men have prostate problems by age 50—and the percentages are unknown for bodybuilders. By getting enough zinc, you can protect your prostate, keeping it healthy and in top form.
How much zinc do you need? The current recommendation is 15 milligrams for men and nine milligrams for women daily—but bodybuilders need more, sometimes much more, depending on the intensity and frequency of training. Toxicity is a concern, so it’s best to get your zinc from foods. Here’s a quick list of foods that contain muscle-building zinc.
Oysters, 100 grams, 16 milligrams zinc
Chicken, 100 grams, 2.7 milligrams
Beef shank, 3 ounces, 8.9 milligrams
Pork chops, 100 grams, 2 milligrams
Plain lowfat yogurt, 1 cup, 2.2 milligrams
Wheat bran, 100 grams, 16 milligrams
Whole-meal bread, 40 grams, 0.8 milligrams
Cashews, 1 ounce, 1.6 milligrams
Pumpkin seeds, 20 grams, 1.3 milligrams
Baked beans, half cup, 1.8 milligrams