What is GABA?

GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a non-essential amino acid formed from glutamic acid along with vitamin B6. GABA is found in almost every region of brain, and is formed through the activity of the enzyme glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD). GAD catalyzes the formation of GABA from glutamic acid, it also requires vitamin B6 as a co factor, which can be used to regulate the levels of GABA. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system that blocks the transmission of an impulse from one cell to another.

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Benefits and Evidence

  • GABA functions as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, decreasing neuron activity thereby preventing them from over-firing. GABA prevents anxiety and stress-related messages from reaching the motor centers of the brain.
  • GABA can help induce sleep.
  • It's essential for brain metabolism.
  • It naturally stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to secrete higher levels of human growth hormone (HGH).

GH is one of the primary anabolic hormones in the body, responsible not only for increases in muscle mass but fat loss as well. In this regard, especially where muscle mass is the goal, it's possible to naturally promote increased production of both GH and testosterone ( one of the other anabolic hormones produced by the body) by using a routine consisting of compound exercises such as squats, dead lifts and power cleans to name three examples. Taking a set to the point of feeling the”burn' in your muscles promotes increased GH release. It's important to increase the levels of these hormones through exercise and supplementation – such as GABA for GH – because our levels naturally decline as we age – this is a big reason why we lose muscle mass over time (to the tune of 5% every 10 years after the age of 35)! That can change, however, if we do something about it! That's one reason why training for size and strength through a core program of compound exercises, a solid nutritional plan that's high in protein and supplementation with a product such as GABA makes so much sense.

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There are several studies regarding GABA, I have three examples below:

One study (conducted by First Medical Clinic at the University of Milan in Milan) found that 90 minutes after GABA supplementation, HGH levels increased 5 times. This research studied 19 subjects who took GABA compared to 18 placebo subjects, and 5 grams of GABA was administered orally to the GABA group. After 90 minutes HGH levels in the GABA group were found to have increased by 5 fold.

Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid administration in humans.

Biofactors. 2006;26(3):201-8. Department of Research and Development, Pharma Foods International Co. Ltd., Kyoto, Japan.

The effect of orally administrated gamma-aminobutyric acid on relaxation and immunity during stress has been investigated in humans. Two studies were conducted. The first evaluated the effect of GABA intake by 13 subjects on their brain waves. Electroencephalograms (EEG) were obtained after 3 tests on each volunteer as follows: intake only water, GABA, or L-theanine. After 60 minutes of administration, GABA significantly increases alpha waves and decreases beta waves compared to water or L-theanine. These findings denote that GABA not only induces relaxation but also reduces anxiety. The second study was conducted to see the role of relaxant and anxiolytic effects of GABA intake on immunity in stressed volunteers. Eight acrophobic subjects were divided into 2 groups (placebo and GABA). All subjects were crossing a suspended bridge as a stressful stimulus. Immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels in their saliva were monitored during bridge crossing. Placebo group showed marked decrease of their IgA levels, while GABA group showed significantly higher levels. In conclusion, GABA could work effectively as a natural relaxant and its effects could be seen within 1 hour of its administration to induce relaxation and diminish anxiety. Moreover, administration could enhance immunity under stress conditions.

It may seem any research or product benefit tied into relaxation or better sleep does not have a direct impact on bodybuilding but in reality, getting a good night's sleep is one of the crucial aspects of proper recovery. If you consider that you grow when you are recovered ( not from how often you train) you can see the tie-in. Not to mention, those with sleeping problems tend to experience numerous problems such as: low energy, mental fatigue and, in more severe cases, enough of a disruption as to cause body fat gain. This effect is tied into both increased release of the catabolic hormone cortisol and decreased release of GH.

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GABA Supplements Timing and Dosage

GABA comes in the following forms: powder, as a chewable and capsules. Like most products, you can buy it alone by itself or in formula products. In this case, it really seems to be in a wide range of products, from sleep aids to recovery products to pre-workout products to anti-aging formulations. The typical recommended dose is 2 grams four times daily. Doses of GABA as high as 5 grams per dose are typical for the more hardcore – to maximize GH release but I suggest working up to a higher dose if a dose of 2 grams does not produce the results you are looking for. Doses are typically taken on an empty stomach prior to sleep but the timing of a formula product will depend on the type of product, refer to the label for suggested timing. Dosages in the formula products will vary from product type to product type. As always, follow the instructions on the label for best results.

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