Zinc for Sports & Fitness

NOTICE: This health information was not created by the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) and may not necessarily reflect specific UMHS practices. For medical advice relating to your personal condition, please consult your doctor. Complete disclaimer

Zinc for Sports & Fitness

Why Use


Why Do Athletes Use It?*

Some athletes say that zinc helps boost the immune system and speed recovery between workouts.

What Do the Advocates Say?*

In order to repair micro tears that can occur as a result of strenuous exercise, serious athletes usually require higher amounts of most vitamins and minerals—including zinc—than sedentary people.

Zinc is essential to keeping the immune system strong. For athletes, this is especially important, since being sidelined with a viral infection, or other illness, can force one to miss valuable workout time.

Zinc deficiency is problematic as plasma testosterone is regulated in part by zinc. Therefore, a zinc deficiency may adversely affect this hormone, causing muscular mass and strength to suffer. Your doctor can administer a routine test to determine whether or not you are deficient in zinc.

*Athletes and fitness advocates may claim benefits for this supplement based on their personal or professional experience. These are individual opinions and testimonials that may or may not be supported by controlled clinical studies or published scientific articles.

Dosage & Side Effects


How Much Is Usually Taken by Athletes?

Exercise increases zinc losses from the human body, and severe zinc deficiency can compromise muscle function.1 , 2 Athletes who do not eat an optimal diet, especially those who are trying to control their weight or use fad diets while exercising strenuously, may become deficient in zinc to the extent that performance or health is compromised.3 , 4. One double-blind trial in women found that 135 mg per day of zinc for two weeks improved one measure of muscle strength.5 Whether these women were zinc deficient was not determined in this study. A double-blind study of male athletes with low blood levels of zinc found that 20 mg per day of zinc improved the flexibility of the red blood cells during exercise, which could benefit blood flow to the muscles.6 No other studies of the effects of zinc supplementation in exercising people have been done. A safe amount of zinc for long-term use is 20 to 40 mg per day along with 1 to 2 mg of copper. Higher amounts should be taken only under the supervision of a doctor.

Side Effects

Zinc intake in excess of 300 mg per day has been reported to impair immune function.7 Some people report that zinc lozenges lead to stomach ache, nausea, mouth irritation, and a bad taste. One source reports that gastrointestinal upset, metallic taste in the mouth, blood in the urine, and lethargy can occur from chronic oral zinc supplementation over 150 mg per day,8 but those claims are unsubstantiated. In topical form, zinc has no known side effects when used as recommended.

Caution: Using zinc nasal spray has been reported to cause severe or complete loss of smell function. In some of those cases, the loss of smell was long-lasting or permanent.9

Preliminary research had suggested that people with Alzheimer’s disease should avoid zinc supplements.10 More recently, preliminary evidence in four patients actually showed improved mental function with zinc supplementation.11 In a convincing review of zinc/Alzheimer’s disease research, perhaps the most respected zinc researcher in the world concluded that zinc does not cause or exacerbate Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.12

Zinc inhibits copper absorption. Copper deficiency can result in anemia, lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, neurological disorders, and cardiac arrhythmias.13 , 14 , 15 Copper intake should be increased if zinc supplementation continues for more than a few days (except for people with Wilson’s disease).16 Some sources recommend a 10:1 ratio of zinc to copper. Evidence suggests that no more that 2 mg of copper per day is needed to prevent zinc-induced copper deficiency. Many zinc supplements include copper in the formulation to prevent zinc-induced copper deficiency. Zinc-induced copper deficiency has been reported to cause reversible anemia and suppression of bone marrow.17 In addition, there are case reports of neurologic abnormalities due to copper deficiency occurring in people who had been using large amounts of certain widely available denture creams that contained high concentrations of zinc.18

In a study of elderly people with macular degeneration, supplementing with 80 mg of zinc per day for an average of about six years increased by about 50% the incidence of hospitalizations due to genitourinary causes (such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and urinary retention).19 In that study, copper was also given, but in a form that cannot be absorbed by humans (cupric oxide). The reported adverse effect of zinc may have been due in large part to zinc-induced copper deficiency, which could be prevented by taking copper in a form other than cupric oxide. Nevertheless, it would be prudent for elderly people wishing to take large amounts of zinc to consult with a doctor.

Marginal zinc deficiency may be a contributing factor in some cases of anemia. In a study of women with normocytic anemia (in other words, their red blood cells were of normal size) and low total iron-binding capacity (a blood test often used to assess the cause of anemia), combined iron and zinc supplementation significantly improved the anemia, whereas iron or zinc supplemented alone had only slight effects.20 Supplementation with zinc, or zinc and iron together, has been found to improve vitamin A status among children at high risk for deficiency of the three nutrients.21

Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

Zinc competes for absorption with copper, iron,22 , 23 calcium,24 and magnesium.25 A multimineral supplement will help prevent mineral imbalances that can result from taking high amounts of zinc for extended periods of time.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) may increase urinary excretion of zinc.26 Long-term users of NAC may consider adding supplements of zinc and copper.

Interactions with Medicines

Certain medicines interact with this supplement.

May Be Beneficial: Some medicines may increase the need for this supplement.
Avoid: Some medicines interact with this supplement, so they should not be taken together.
Check: Some interactions between this supplement and certain medicines require more explanation. Click the link to see details.

Note: The following list only includes the generic or class name of a medicine. To find a specific brand name, use the Medicines Index.

May Be Beneficial: Alclometasone
May Be Beneficial: Amcinonide
May Be Beneficial: Amlodipine-Benazepril
May Be Beneficial: Aspirin
May Be Beneficial: AZT
May Be Beneficial: Benazepril
May Be Beneficial: Bendroflumethiazide
May Be Beneficial: Betamethasone
May Be Beneficial: Betamethasone Dipropionate
May Be Beneficial: Betamethasone Valerate
May Be Beneficial: Betamethasone, Augmented
May Be Beneficial: Betamethasone-Calcipotriene
May Be Beneficial: Bicalutamide
May Be Beneficial: Budesonide
May Be Beneficial: Busulfan
May Be Beneficial: Calcium Acetate
May Be Beneficial: Capecitabine
May Be Beneficial: Captopril
May Be Beneficial: Carboplatin
May Be Beneficial: Carmustine
May Be Beneficial: Chlorambucil
May Be Beneficial: Chlorothiazide
May Be Beneficial: Chlorthalidone
May Be Beneficial: Cholestyramine
May Be Beneficial: Cisplatin
May Be Beneficial: Cladribine
May Be Beneficial: Clindamycin
May Be Beneficial: Clobetasol
May Be Beneficial: Clocortolone
May Be Beneficial: Clotrimazole-Betamethasone
May Be Beneficial: Colesevelam
May Be Beneficial: Colestipol
May Be Beneficial: Cyclophosphamide
May Be Beneficial: Cytarabine
May Be Beneficial: Desogestrel-Ethinyl Estradiol
May Be Beneficial: Desoximetasone
May Be Beneficial: Diflorasone
May Be Beneficial: Docetaxel
May Be Beneficial: Enalapril
May Be Beneficial: Erlotinib
May Be Beneficial: Erythromycin-Benzoyl Peroxide
May Be Beneficial: Ethinyl Estradiol and Levonorgestrel
May Be Beneficial: Ethinyl Estradiol and Norethindrone
May Be Beneficial: Ethinyl Estradiol and Norgestimate
May Be Beneficial: Ethinyl Estradiol and Norgestrel
May Be Beneficial: Etoposide
May Be Beneficial: Fludarabine
May Be Beneficial: Fluocinonide
May Be Beneficial: Fluorouracil
May Be Beneficial: Flurandrenolide
May Be Beneficial: Folic Acid
May Be Beneficial: Fosinopril
May Be Beneficial: Halcinonide
May Be Beneficial: Halobetasol
May Be Beneficial: Hydrochlorothiazide
May Be Beneficial: Hydrocortisone
May Be Beneficial: Hydroflumethiazide
May Be Beneficial: Ifosfamide
May Be Beneficial: Indapamide
May Be Beneficial: Irinotecan
May Be Beneficial: Levonorgestrel
May Be Beneficial: Levonorgestrel-Ethinyl Estrad
May Be Beneficial: Lisinopril
May Be Beneficial: Lomustine
May Be Beneficial: Mechlorethamine
May Be Beneficial: Melphalan
May Be Beneficial: Mercaptopurine
May Be Beneficial: Mestranol and Norethindrone
May Be Beneficial: Methotrexate
May Be Beneficial: Methyclothiazide
May Be Beneficial: Metolazone
May Be Beneficial: Metronidazole
May Be Beneficial: Moexipril
May Be Beneficial: Mometasone
May Be Beneficial: Norgestimate-Ethinyl Estradiol
May Be Beneficial: Perindopril
May Be Beneficial: Polifeprosan 20 with Carmustine
May Be Beneficial: Polythiazide
May Be Beneficial: Prednicarbate
May Be Beneficial: Quinapril
May Be Beneficial: Ramipril
May Be Beneficial: Sodium Fluoride
May Be Beneficial: Streptozocin
May Be Beneficial: Thioguanine
May Be Beneficial: Thiotepa
May Be Beneficial: Trandolapril
May Be Beneficial: Trichlormethiazide
May Be Beneficial: Uracil Mustard
May Be Beneficial: Vinblastine
May Be Beneficial: Vincristine
Avoid: Ciprofloxacin
Avoid: Demeclocycline
Avoid: Doxycycline
Avoid: Methyltestosterone
Avoid: Ofloxacin
Avoid: Penicillamine
Avoid: Risedronate
Avoid: Tetracycline
Avoid: Warfarin
Check: Cortisone
Check: Dexamethasone
Check: Medroxyprogesterone
Check: Methylprednisolone
Check: Minocycline
Check: Prednisolone
Check: Prednisone
Check: Valproate

More Resources


Where to Find It

Good sources of zinc include oysters, meat, eggs, seafood, black-eyed peas, tofu, and wheat germ.


See a list of books, periodicals, and other resources for this and related topics.

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.