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Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is used by some athletes and bodybuilders, with mixed reports of effectiveness. It became popular after the gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) scare. GHB was used as a growth hormone releaser and subsequently a recreational drug (see Chapter 10). GABA is a natural substance found in the same chemical pathway as GHB.

Taken before bed GABA gives deeper, better quality sleep, hence more GH is released and you feel better the next day. Some people like to use it pre-workout and claim it gives them a 'buzz' during training; I have tried this and it definitely made me feel worse. I don't know whether the increase in GH release is entirely true, as I could find few clinical studies, and those that do exist are poorly designed (Cavagnini, et al 1980; Acs, et al 1990), but the theory is sound. GABA does, however, definitely improve sleep quality, and it has been said you can get eight hours worth of sleep in six hours - useful for the busy-lifestyle bodybuilder; I know I benefit from it.

Watch out for its rather unpleasant side effect of shortness of breath and chest tightness about ten minutes after ingestion that lasts about five minutes. I don't know why GABA causes this effect, but it is uncomfortable and can be scary if unexpected.

GABA definitely has a place on the supplement rack as an aid to quality sleep, and it isn't too expensive. Don't use it too often, to avoid reliance, so a tub will last months.

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