Zooming in on zinc: A vital mineral for health and performance

Zinc is a multi-functional mineral that plays a vital role in numerous physiological processes, such as cell growth and development, metabolism, and cognitive, reproductive, and microbiome health and function.

As the second most abundant mineral in humans after iron, zinc has regulatory, structural, and catalytic roles and is present as a component in more than 2500 proteins, including enzymes and transcription factors.

Due to its role in cell development and growth, zinc is an important mineral in neuro health, playing a role in brain cell production through its regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

BDNF is a protein that supports the growth and survival of brain cells, with low zinc levels linked to decreased BDNF. In these instances, studies1 suggest that a zinc supplement “can increase the circulating levels of BDNF”.

And zinc regulates production of neurotransmitters like glutamate and GABA2, which play a key role in communication between brain cells.

In addition, zinc is necessary for proper sexual function, skin and hair growth and overall health, wound healing and the sensory functions of taste and smell.

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Powerful immune booster

With regard to its role in immune function, zinc contributes to a strong immune system and response.

Research shows that zinc can inhibit the replication of viruses, with a 2020 study3 showing that zinc supplementation could potentially reduce the duration of a cold by 2.25 days.

In this regard, immune supplements that contain zinc are most effective when taken within 24 hours of symptom onset4.

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Performance boost

From a physical development and sporting performance standpoint, zinc is necessary for DNA and protein production.

These proteins not only support skin and hair cell growth but are also the building blocks of muscle cells. As such, it plays a vital role in physical development in children, and muscle growth and recovery in physically active individuals.

Furthermore, zinc is involved in energy production through its role in carbohydrate and protein metabolism. As such, low zinc levels can hinder energy production and athletes can fatigue more easily.

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Meeting your zinc demands

Good dietary sources of zinc include meat, including beef, lamb, and pork, legumes, whole grains, nuts, dairy, shellfish, and eggs.

However, according to studies5, roughly 17% of the global population is at risk of a zinc deficiency, with regional differences between developed and developing nations.

With a significant proportion of the population seemingly unable to meet their daily recommended zinc requirements through diet alone, supplementing with a bioavailable product may provide nutritional and performance benefits.

Zinc picolinate and zinc, magnesium aspartate (ZMA) are two highly bioavailable forms of zinc found in supplemental form.

Available research6 suggests that supplementing with ZMA may help individuals with deficiencies in these minerals optimise their sporting performance by potentially helping “promote anabolic factors by increasing levels of total and free testosterone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)”.

This power combo can also help to improve sleep, which supports the muscle-building process and aids recovery and performance.

It is important not to exceed the recommended dosage, as excessive zinc intake can have adverse effects and may interact with medications, including antibiotics and penicillamine, so speak to your doctor about the ideal treatment plan.


  1. Agh F, Hasani M, Khazdouz M, Amiri F, Heshmati J, Aryaeian N. The Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Circulating Levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Int J Prev Med. 2022 Sep 20;13:117. doi: 10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_478_20. PMID: 36276891; PMCID: PMC9580557.
  2. Takeda A, Minami A, Seki Y, Oku N. Differential effects of zinc on glutamatergic and GABAergic neurotransmitter systems in the hippocampus. J Neurosci Res. 2004 Jan 15;75(2):225-229. doi: 10.1002/jnr.10846. PMID: 14705143.
  3. Min Xian Wang, Shwe Sin Win, Junxiong Pang. Zinc Supplementation Reduces Common Cold Duration among Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials with Micronutrients Supplementation. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2020 Jul; 103(1): 86–99. Published online 2020 Apr 27. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.19-0718
  4. Goutham Rao, Kate Rowland. Zinc for the common cold—not if, but when. J Fam Pract. 2011 Nov; 60(11): 669–671.
  5. Maxfield L, Shukla S, Crane JS. Zinc Deficiency. [Updated 2023 Jun 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493231/.
  6. Gallagher C, Austin V, Dunlop KA, Dally J, Taylor K, Pullinger SA, Edwards BJ. Effects of Supplementing Zinc Magnesium Aspartate on Sleep Quality and Submaximal Weightlifting Performance, following Two Consecutive Nights of Partial Sleep Deprivation. Nutrients. 2024 Jan 13;16(2):251. doi: 10.3390/nu16020251. PMID: 38257144; PMCID: PMC10820214.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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