GABA, also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a supplement used by bodybuilders as well as by others for a variety of reasons. GABA is a neurotransmitter (the most abundant ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter in the human brain) that has two useful functions. The first is to act as a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, which basically means that your brain has more serotonin floating around in it, which prepares the body for sleep. For this reason it’s used as a sleeping aid for those with insomnia or those who just struggle with getting to sleep or have an early start or busy day ahead.
Extra serotonin also leads to a pleasant mood which means that GABA can also be used as an anti depressant. This feels like an almost ‘numbness’ or disconnection however rather than euphoria or giddiness. I felt like Mr Spock, as though I had no emotions at all – it wasn’t just the negative ones that disappeared. As someone with no mood problems myself, I actually found this rather unpleasant and was reminded of the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s ‘comfortably numb’. And while I may be wrong, I also think it could be counterproductive for sufferers too if it means they’re just ‘burying’ the feeling.
The second useful function of GABA is that it causes the pituitary gland to pump out extra growth hormone. Growth hormone has many benefits for bodybuilders as it is used in fat burning, muscle building and fixing wounds and also has powerful anti-ageing properties. Taking growth hormone directly is unfortunately illegal in most states of the US and the UK. This is why GABA is used by some for increased.
Essentially then, the idea of GABA for bodybuilders, is that it induces a deep and extra anabolic sleep for your body to make repairs and build muscle. For this reason it is best taken before bed. GABA also has another side effect, leading to a tingling feeling in the face and limbs and relaxed muscles.
GABA was recently banned from the UK so is only available for those in the US. I would not recommend it for bodybuilders however, or for the other uses, as I found that the tiredness and ‘numbness’ would intrude into the next day. This was such that I found myself lethargic and indifferent at work and even too sleepy to train properly. Obviously this meant that my muscle building was actually impeded making the supplement almost pointless for me. I definitely also strongly advise against messing with the chemistry of your brain if there’s nothing wrong with it. And while studies claim that growth hormone is increased up to 5 or 6 times, I actually found there to be no benefit in terms of my muscle mass while I was on it.
Other supplements provide better anabolic benefits and there are other natural ways to increase your growth hormone such as taking a hot shower or sprinting. Bodybuilders: go for a sprint and a hot shower before bed and take something like NO2. For those with trouble sleeping, read my article on better sleep. And for those with mood disorders, seek professional intervention and certainly don’t self medicate with GABA!