Athletes need higher doses of zinc!

Athletes may benefit from higher doses of zinc beyond the recommended daily intake, as they have higher zinc demands. Zinc is vital for building muscle mass, decreasing recovery time after exercise, increasing muscle strength, and improving endurance exercise performances!

How much zinc do we need a day?

The recommended daily intake of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. We can take this dose from food, but much higher doses may be tricky.

Athletes have higher zinc demands

Although most athletes take care of their diet, it’s rather common to have significantly low serum zinc concentration. Even if they follow a diet with more zinc than the recommended daily dose. Especially, intense exercise can significantly affect zinc metabolism.[1,2]

Moreover, athletes may follow strict diets, leading to nutrient deficiencies. For instance, endurance athletes regularly increase carbs, minimizing proteins and fat. This extreme diet can cause zinc deficiencies in 90% of athletes![3] Most noteworthy, symptoms of mild zinc deficiency aren’t always obvious. In athletes, zinc deficiency can lead to anorexia, significant loss in body weight, fatigue, and decreased endurance!

Therefore, athletes should be extra careful of their diet. Besides macros, athletes should get enough vitamins and minerals, such as zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D etc.

Zinc helps athletes build muscle mass

We need zinc to build muscle mass! Zinc plays a key role in protein synthesis, maintaining protein structure and stability. Actually, one in every ten human proteins is a zinc protein.[4]

Zinc is the second most abundant trace metal in the human body after iron! We have about 2–3g of zinc in the body. Most of it is in our muscle mass and bones. Actually, our muscle mass contains about 60% and bones 30% of the zinc in the body![5]

Moreover, zinc helps athletes grow muscle mass, as it greatly affects muscle cell activation, proliferation and differentiation. Also, zinc helps muscle regeneration!

On the other hand, when we don’t get enough zinc, muscle tissue can’t function properly, as the body can’t synthesize certain zinc proteins.

Last, but not least, zinc is necessary for the synthesis of testosterone. Testosterone builds muscle mass by increasing muscle protein synthesis.[6]

Certainly, resistance training is the best way to naturally increase testosterone levels. But, a zinc dose of 30 mg can increase free testosterone of athletes after exercise. On the contrary, zinc supplementation didn’t affect resting levels of testosterone.[7]

The body can synthesize high amounts of testosterone naturally. But, besides zinc, we should have high levels of magnesium, selenium, vitamin D, carnitine, arginine, and many more. Certainly, a well-balanced diet plays a key role for athletes!

Zinc can help endurance athletes

Additionally, zinc can significantly help endurance athletes.

For instance, high doses of zinc can reduce blood viscosity. Lower viscosity promotes oxygen delivery which leads to improved aerobic performance.[7]

Additionally, zinc may help increase muscle strength and develop type I fiber which plays a key role in endurance exercises, such as running or cycling.[5]

Endurance athletes may need more zinc than the recommended daily dosage of 11 mg. Even a daily dose of 20 mg may not be enough. In a study, participants increased their VO2peak, only after a daily zinc dose of 30 mg for 6 weeks.[7]

Furthermore, zinc supplementation can’t instantly improve sport performance. It seems that athletes should take high amounts of zinc for weeks to totally replenish zinc in the body. They should take constantly high doses of zinc. Therefore, athletes should consume many common foods rich in zinc every day!

Unfortunately, zinc deficiency is common in athletes impairing endurance performance. For instance, zinc depletion leads to increased lactic acid and muscle fatigue.[5]

Zinc is necessary for fast muscle recovery

Furthermore, high levels of zinc are beneficial for faster muscle recovery after exercise. Zinc has antioxidant properties which neutralize exercise-induced free radicals, helping muscle recover faster.[8]

Zinc plays a key role in muscle recovery, and also can prevent muscle exhaustion.[5]

Most noteworthy, intense aerobic endurance and muscular strength exercise significantly decrease zinc levels! Especially, if athletes work out until exhaustion. So, athletes should constantly provide the body with high doses of zinc.  

Additionally, athletes need high amounts of vitamin C. It has powerful antioxidant properties, as well. More about vitamin C and sport performance here.  

Is 50 mg of zinc too much?

So, acute exercise can cause zinc deficiency, increase exercise-induced oxidative stress, and inevitably decrease sport performance!

Muscles need zinc to function properly and recover faster. In zinc deficiency, the human body can retrieve zinc from bones when exercising. Bones have lower zinc requirements than muscle tissue, and they’re the 2nd biggest zinc store in the body, after muscle tissue. Consequently, athletes with chronic zinc deficiency have higher risk of developing osteoporosis![5]

Therefore, athletes should be extra careful about their daily zinc intake. Symptoms of mild zinc deficiency aren’t obvious.

The upper safe daily dose for zinc is 40 mg. Athletes should take higher doses, only after consulting their physician. There are cases of acute zinc deficiency in which zinc supplements are necessary.

Adverse effect of too much zinc

On the contrary, long-term zinc intakes above this dose may increase the risk of adverse health effects. For instance, excessive zinc intake may lead to copper deficiency. Low levels of copper can increase the risk of insulin resistance and make it harder for the body to use glucose effectively! Effective glucose utilization plays a key in every sport.[2,7]

Moreover, overdose of zinc may lead to side effects such as nausea, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Can I take zinc every day?

In most cases, a daily dose of zinc up to 40 mg is pretty safe. Above all, athletes should consume lots of foods high in zinc. For better sport performance, athletes should check their serum zinc levels and consult their health care provider. A daily intake of zinc supplements is beneficial in acute zinc deficiency, or during small periods of time with intense exercise.