It’s no secret I’m a fan of Natural Calm, and I often tell friends and readers one of my main recommendations for sleep is to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium. If Natural Calm is the most popular magnesium supp on the market, ZMA is likely in the top five. “ZMA” actually stands for “Zinc, Magnesium, Aspartate” and is a patented dosage of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6. It was originally developed to boost athletic and muscle recovery.
Though studies regarding ZMA’s benefits on athletic recovery are mixed, the stack does boast some time-tested sleep boosters — specifically, it’s useful in supplementing zinc and magnesium, two minerals many Westerners are deficient in. I know many more people who use it to boost sleep than to improve muscle recovery (although better sleep tends to mean better athletic recovery!).
While ZMA is a pretty standard mix, some companies add an additional ingredient or two. True Athlete’s version contains theanine, an important an amino acid and noted relaxation enhancer. This is one of the more common and widely used brands of ZMA for sleep. Read below to hear how it worked for me!
Gain strength, recover fast and replenish nutrients with the help of True Athlete® ZMA® with Theanine. It’s a unique supplement formulated not only to help you build muscle strength, but also to help fight the effects of exercise-induced stress, and to promote rest and recovery.
As a dietary supplement, take 3 capsules daily for men and 2 capsules daily for women, preferably on an empty stomach 30-60 minutes before bedtime. For best results, avoid taking with food or supplements containing calcium.
Dosages below based off male/female serving size split (3 and 2 capsules, respectively).
- Vitamin B6 (as pyridoxine HCl) (10.5 mg/7 mg) — This common B vitamin may help increase the absorption of ZMA’s other ingredients.
- Magnesium (as magnesium aspartate) (450 mg/300 mg) — As I mentioned in this article, magnesium is an effective sleep aid. Magnesium aspartate is a different form than you’ll see in supplements like Natural Calm, and it might have a different impact on sleep for some users.
- Zinc (monomethionine and aspartate) (30 mg/20 mg) — Another important mineral that many people exhibit deficiency in. It has been tied to sleep quality, though not as heavily as magnesium, its counterpart in ZMA.
- Theanine (50 mg/33 mg) — Shown to reduce heart rate and the body’s immune response to stress, this amino acid has also been connected to inducing a feeling of relaxation.
Additional Ingredients: Gelatin, microcrystalline cellulose, magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide.
Tip: If you think you may be deficient in zinc and/or magnesium, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.
I’ve taken ZMA before (back in college when I was training pretty heavily as an athlete), so I’m already a bit familiar with how it affects me. I took the recommended female dosage, and that still proved to be enough (even though I’m a little bit heavier now than I was back then). The nights I took ZMA when testing for this article, I feel asleep quick — and it felt like that was because my entire body was relaxed, not necessarily my mind. It felt a bit like how I feel when taking Natural Calm, but maybe a bit more intense in that the relaxed feeling hit me suddenly (I would have struggled to write a lengthy email once the feeling hit, for example).
I slept through the night every night I took ZMA, and my sleep felt restful and deep. I did experience some very strange dreams on those nights, which is a side effect I remembered from way back when. I never felt groggy or foggy in the mornings after ZMA, even though my sleep duration changed a bit from night to night.
- Definitely helped me fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
- Easy to take and relatively easy to time.
- No wheat, soy, sugar, dairy, yeast, fish, or most other common allergens in this blend.
- May promote athletic recovery and leave your muscles feeling better-rested.
- It’s best to avoid calcium-rich foods and beverages (like milk) around the time you take ZMA, as calcium can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb zinc. This is normally a mild inconvenience, but it’s something that had me rethinking my eating habits on the nights I took ZMA.
- ZMA can result in some notably weird dreams (a bit like GABA). Not a huge concern for me, but a few friends have been weirded out when they took it.
- If you’re taking ZMA, it may be best to avoid other magnesium-containing supplements, as too much can actually inhibit sleep in some people.
The Final Word
ZMA by True Athlete is a solid take on the standard ZMA stack, especially with the addition of amino acid theanine. For me, its effects were similar to Natural Calm, but a bit more intense; I felt relaxation hit me more suddenly, my sleep was a bit deeper, and my dreams were…imaginative, to say the least. I enjoy how easy it is to take, and it’s very convenient to be able to supplement zinc and magnesium in one dosage.
I doubt ZMA will replace Natural Calm in my rotation, because there are some nights when I still prefer the relatively mild calm and relaxation of the famous magnesium powder. But on evenings where I want some deep sleep, especially after a tough workout or other exertion, I’ll be swapping in some ZMA.