Please always consult a doctor before taking any supplements. Supplements are no replacement for a well-balanced diet. In this article, I look at information about Gaba from various internet sources. I am not a doctor or nutritionist and just help you to save time by consolidating what I read. Please follow the links to make up your own mind. In total GABA seems to be a suboptimal supplement for the purposes of strength training compared to other options like protein supplements.
What is GABA ?
GABA is the abbreviation for Gamma Amino Butyric Acid. Based on its molecular structure it is an amino acid but does not take part in the building of proteins. GABA is built by a metabolism of glutamate and vitamin B6 in the body and is said to be one of the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitters in the body. There are estimates that up to 40% of the synapses in the human brain work with GABA.
Glutamate and Gaba help your nervous system to regulate impulses in the brain and to the rest of your body. While glutamate promotes activity, Gaba inhibits it. Therefore, drugs who regulate GABA levels and bring them up either directly or by changing your metabolism in favor of GABA being promoted in the body have relaxing, anti-anxiety and anti-convulsive effects. Examples would be alcohol, cannabis, and tranquilizers which promote that effect. GABA is said to be a help for patients with anxiety issues, depression and other diseases of a similar kind. GABA is also said to provide a positive effect on the production of human growth hormones and as a result gained popularity as an orally taken nutritional supplement amongst bodybuilders and strength athletes. A lack of GABA can lead to over functioning of the nervous system. Results can be:
- Anxiety disorders
- Panic attacks,
- Parkinson's syndrome
Depending on the source it is promoted and sold as a
- Sleeping pill
- Weight loss pill
- Strength pill
- Reducing symptoms of PMS
- Stabilising blood pressure
- Improving exercise tolerance
- Treatment for ADHD
As it is considered to be GRAS (generally considered safe by the FDA) it is sold over the counter. Depending on the source the recommended daily intake is between 250mg - 750mg to 2g - 5g a day. These are usually provided in capsules or powder form.
Does GABA work ?
GABA itself can not cross the brain blood barrier. The blood-brain barrier is a semipermeable membrane which prevents certain minerals / nutrients etc. to get from the blood into the brain. As this is the case GABA is often referred to as a placebo in medical circles for relieving anxiety if taken orally in its pure form.
There is a prodrug version in which Niacin has been combined with Gaba to make it possible to cross the brain blood barrier. However, there are little studies done on this version while the effect of GABA as an inhibitor of activity in the brain seems to have been well studied and proven. So adjusting GABA levels in the brain to get the desired effects does work, but taking it orally seems to have little to no influence on the GABA levels in the brain. Better alternatives which need lower dosages to promote the same effect regarding anxiety seem to be:
- Valerian herb
- Kava herb
As this blog is most centered around getting fitter, you are most likely interested in the effects of GABA on muscle & strength gains. There are very little studies being conducted on this topic. Wherever GABA does seem to have an influence, based on what I read, the dosage has to be pretty high (3g -5g). immediately before exercise and exercise has to be hard. As in addition, a higher level of GABA makes you more docile rather than pumping with adrenaline it seems not to be a very good choice for the purpose of strength training. Adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin & glutamate seem to be a better fit for this purpose. These substances are harder to come by over the counter than GABA though.
As for dosage and side effects I leave you with a description of Carl Pfeiffer taken from his book the healing nutrients:
“About ten minutes after taking the GABA, I started to wheeze and my breath rate increased to 45 a minute. Five minutes later, my heart rate peaked at 140 and my blood pressure at 180/100. I was choking, fidgeting and could not sit still. I had a massive anxiety attack, thinking I was going to die…….I vomited into the waste basket. Over the next half hour, this anxiety attack let up, but I continued to be nauseous for the next two hours.
This dose of GABA also caused a constant flush sensation, like that of niacin, although my skin was not red. I had a tingling in my hands and over my entire body. This effect occurred even at the lesser dose of 3 g of GABA and is likely neuralgic, unlike the effect of niacin which is primarily vascular."
How much does Gaba cost ?
Depending on where you source it and in which form you get it prices vary between 7.95 USD to 30 USD. Most of the material is labelled and promoted for anxiety relief or to calm you down. There is less advertisement for muscle gains and fat loss.
All in all in my personal opinion based on what I have read GABA seems to be not an ideal choice for muscle and strength gains. Most research is being done on its effects on anxiety relief for calming people down. Oral intake also seems to have little to no effect based on the chemical structure of GABA, unless you get into ranges where the dosage gets you some funny feelings, based on Pfeiffer's description. It just does not make sense in my world to use a product that is mainly related to functions to calm someone down to promote body fat loss and muscle gains. I find it easier and more straight forward to make this connection for adrenaline if you are already going down that path. The final nail in the coffin for GABA is that it is an amino acid which is not taking part in the protein metabolism. I think that says it all for its real value for bodybuilders, but never underestimate the real effects that placebos can have on your mind and body.
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