Tribulus vs ZMA: Which Works Best?

Confused by the number of testosterone boosting supplements available?

The world of sports nutrition has changed beyond recognition since the 1970’s when you had a choice between just two routes when it came to supplementing your training; anabolic steroids or more protein.

In the current markets, you can select from hundreds of types of supplement, each claiming different and specialised benefits from aiding muscle growth to promoting sleep, boosting natural growth hormones such as testosterone to enhancing stamina.

A single supplement can be manufactured by many different companies each with a slightly different recipe meaning there can be thousands of products to choose from.

In this guide, we take a look at two familiar names on the market and run through the claims and the science behind each one so you can make a decision on which one to use.

Head to Head: Tribulus vs ZMA

ZMA Tribulus Terrestris
Type Synthetic Supplement Plant Extract
Active Ingredients Zinc Monomethionine and Aspartate

Magnesium aspartate

Vitamin B6

Steroidal Saponins

(Protodioscin)

(Protogracillin)

Health Claims Recovery aid to boost testosterone and improve stamina and strength and enhance lean muscle growth. Improve erectile function, boost libido, testosterone, stamina and strength as well as support healthy immune and urinary system

ZMA

What is ZMA?

Developed by American founder of BALCO laboratories, Victor Conte, ZMA is a synthetic supplement comprised of Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6. It was designed as a recovery aid for use in sports nutrition to aid restful and deep REM sleep.

What does ZMA claim to do?

ZMA claims to aid recovery via enhancing deeper REM sleep allowing the body to build lean muscle mass post workout. As a result, ZMA is claimed to improve strength and stamina whilst boosting testosterone levels.

bodybuilding with zma tribulus

Building muscle: ZMA purports to enhance stamina and strength. Image via Pixabay.

What’s the science behind ZMA?

Taking the individual components separately, zinc is known to support a healthy immune system as well as speeding up the muscle building process. It works by regulating hormone levels and stabilising protein structures in the body. So, zinc is an important ingredient for muscle repair and growth.

Sometimes used to treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, magnesium aspartate has been shown to boost energy levels and to help with regulating sleep.

Vitamin B6 is a crucial component in our body’s daily processes and is vital in the healthy function of our body clocks, building new cells, supporting the nervous system and treating inflammation.

Does ZMA boost testosterone levels?

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that ZMA boosts the signs of elevated testosterone levels yet there is only a handful of studies undertaken to support this claim.

The most significant of these was actually conducted by a manufacturer of ZMA for which the research has naturally received the negative attention of those wishing to detract from the findings.

The 1998 research was performed on a dozen athletes during a period of intense training with a control group being given a placebo. The first group took a nightly dose of ZMA for a period of 8 weeks with the findings being reported after this time as follows:

  • Athletes using ZMA had strength gains 2.5 times greater than the placebo group;
  • Testosterone levels in the athletes using ZMA were 30% greater compared to just 10% in the placebo group.

Two further studies have been undertaken which are more widely accepted by the scientific community showing no significant effects on either testosterone levels or observations in either physical strength, muscle endurance or anaerobic sprint capacity.

However, the first, conducted in 2004, was partially funded by the manufacturer of other branded sports supplements and calls in to question the reliability of the results.

The second, conducted in Germany in 2006 used ZMA supplements to measure the effects of testosterone production in both blood and urine output. The findings showed some changes across the group of 14 healthy young males but not enough to form any significant clinical findings.

zma clinical trials boost testosterone

Clinical trials for efficacy of ZMA to boost testosterone are inconclusive. Image via Flickr.

ZMA: Summary

The ingredients of ZMA are important for the healthy function for muscles, sleep and mood as well as hormone balance and evidence suggests that many western diets are deficient in one or more of these components.

As a result, ZMA can be effective as a supplement to boost these essential vitamins and minerals. By restoring the body’s reserves of these components can result in a return of testosterone levels and other strength and stamina markers to normal levels. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the placebo effect of ZMA can boost a users perception of its efficacy.

There is also good evidence to support the claims that regular use of ZMA can help support healthy sleep function and thus aid in muscle recovery post workout.

Tribulus Terrestris

What is Tribulus Terrestris?

Also known as bullweed, puncture vine and goat’s weed, tribulus terrestris is a herbal supplement extracted from the plant of the same name. An essential component in traditional medicines across Asia, Africa, America and Australia for centuries the extract is widely acknowledged to have powerful aphrodisiac properties as well as being an effective diuretic.

tribulus vs zma

The extract of tribulus terrestris claims to boost libido and testosterone. Image via Flickr.

What does Tribulus Terrestris claim to do?

Tribulus terrestris reports to boost libido and treat erectile dysfunction. In addition, proponents assert that potent formulas of this plant extract can also increase muscle mass, improve strength and endurance as well as boost testosterone levels.

What’s the science behind Tribulus Terrestris?

Tribulus terrestris contains steroidal saponins, lignin amides, flavonoids, alkaloids and glycosides. There is evidence that supports the claim that steroidal saponins have a potent effect on mimicking the behaviour of naturally occurring human growth hormones such as testosterone. The main saponins in tribulus terrestris is protodioscin which is a compound proven to significantly increase testosterone levels in animal studies and stimulate the libido.

Research on tribulus has also been used effectively to treat diabetes, decrease blood pressure, act as an effective diuretic and pain-killer and to treat depression.

Does Tribulus Terrestris boost testosterone levels?

There is no doubting that the active ingredients in tribulus terrestris have worked very effectively in animal studies (including primates) to boost testosterone levels by as much as 52%. However, there is yet to be a conclusive study that is widely accepted by the scientific community that these results can be replicated in humans.

Two trials do produce supportive evidence for the claims that tribulus terrestris boost testosterone levels with marked improvements seen in both athletes and healthy young males.

Several other trials have also produced findings that testosterone levels can be boosted by tribulus though the increases (up to 16%) seen in these cases, were deemed ‘insignificant’.

Detractors of the few human trials undertaken suggest that the results are flawed as there is often a conflict of interest in the sponsors of the studies with positive findings on the testosterone boosting properties of tribulus or that the test subjects are often suffering from erectile dysfunction or have impaired testosterone production.

Tribulus Terrestris: Summary

The power of tribulus terrestris to boost libido and enhance testosterone levels in animal studies is irrefutable and there is certainly evidence to suggest that this is also true in humans although further research is needed on the doses required to support this.

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