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In those who take sport and exercise seriously, zinc is probably a mineral which is supplemented after a workout; either through sports drinks, individual food supplements or as part of a multivitamin. Like most micronutrients though most people don’t always understand why they are taking them, especially if the person was just told to do so by someone else!

Zinc is an essential mineral, and although it is required only in small amounts, it is vital to our health. Amongst a variety of roles, zinc contributes to the normal function of the immune system*, to normal cognitive function* and protects cells from oxidative stress*. It also contributes to normal fertility and reproduction*, and the maintenance of normal vision, hair, skin and nails*.

But what does the research say for zinc and sporting performance?

Zinc supplementation is very popular in athletes. Serum zinc levels decrease significantly during exercise recovery, compared to pre-exercise levels and most research appears to assess physiological variables that contribute to the damaging effect of exhaustive exercise on the immune system.

Despite higher total dietary zinc intake, athletes generally have lower serum zinc concentration, which suggests that athletes have higher requirement of zinc than those who are physically inactive. In elite cyclists with Zn deficiency, taking 22 mg/dayfor 30 days improved their zinc status during normal training regimens. These results showed that as plasma Zn increased, Cu decreased, resulting in an increase in the Zn:Cu ratio. It is important to note that anyone supplementing zinc above the 100% NRV also need to supplement copper.

One study found six weeks of low-dose Zn gluconate (30 mg/d) have been shown to improve estimated VO2peak, similar to the effects of high intensity workouts. When combined, 30mg Zn/d and high intensity training further improved estimated VO2peak by 9.33% in female athletes.

As we have known for many years, exercise improves insulin sensitivity, and elite athletes are already known to have very high sensitivity to insulin- meaning their cells take in glucose readily when insulin tells them to. It is not clear if zinc helps this process even more, as insulin sensitivity can be improved with zinc even when obese and inactive.

Zn has also been shown to affect the anabolic hormone testosterone (T) in some, but not all, studies. Of these seeing effects, most increased free testosterone immediately after exercise, but levels returned to normal when at rest.

If you are a keen athlete but not at an elite level, the most important aspect to highlight here is to ensure you are not deficient as zinc deficiency effects so may things within the human body, from fertility to immunity. To know for sure you will need to have a blood test, normally privately.

Altruvita Max Strength Zinc provides 25mg of elemental zinc per tablet. For less than 15p a day this high dose can help support your health, (when purchasing a single pack).

*GB REGISTERS ON NUTRITION AND HEALTH CLAIMS.