Magnesium is one of the most common nutrient insufficiencies, especially in those taking part in regular exercise. In this article we are going to look at the role of magnesium in exercise performance and recovery.
More about magnesium
Magnesium is an essential mineral and is a nutrient involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including the generation of energy out of the food that we eat.
Magnesium is critical in nerve conduction, muscle contraction and the regulation of blood pressure. Muscle performance is positively associated with the blood levels of magnesium and low magnesium levels can lead to improper neuromuscular function.
Many people suffer with muscle cramping and magnesium can help to reduce this. I have seen the use of magnesium supplementation, or the use of Epsom salt baths (magnesium sulphate), to be extremely beneficial in reducing night time muscle cramps, especially those who suffer with night time cramping in their calves. I have also seen it work extremely well for those with restless legs syndrome.
Without adequate magnesium our ability to make energy can decrease and therefore our endurance can suffer. During more cardiovascular exercise a higher intake of magnesium has been associated with less oxygen needs and better cardiovascular performance.
Studies have noted that awareness should be bought to the effects of magnesium supplementation on physically active individuals and athletes because of its potential performance enhancing benefits.
As well as athletic populations magnesium has also been shown to help with areas such as glucose control/diabetes, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, issues with sleep quality and panic attacks.
Is magnesium from food intake enough?
Ordinarily I would say yes you could get adequate intake of magnesium and all other nutrients from a healthy wholefood diet. I am not a believer that everyone must be on additional nutrient supplementation, however, there are certain populations that would benefit from supplementation, in particular magnesium supplementation. Some of this has to do with the reduction in magnesium in modern foods due to more intensive farming methods, as well as certain populations having much higher demands for magnesium.
Interestingly in one study of men and women over the course of a year, where they were allowed to eat ad lib, demonstrated on average that they only consumed 84% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) which is a set limit to avoid deficiency of magnesium. This is the bear minimum we should be aiming for and is typically far from the optimal amount of magnesium required, especially in more athletic populations and those under higher levels of stress, which can also deplete magnesium faster.
So yes, if you are not doing a lot of intensive exercise, have no major stress demands and you have a healthy whole food diet you may not need to worry about magnesium supplementation. It should also be noted though that supplementation with vitamin D and calcium can increase magnesium requirements; likewise alcohol consumption can also deplete magnesium stores as well. In fact, magnesium can be a rate-limiting factor that prevents the body from making vitamin D effectively, hence magnesium is crucial to maintaining healthy vitamin D levels as well. In some instances, all I had to do was correct magnesium to see improvements in vitamin D levels.
So, if you are partial to alcohol, partake in intensive exercise of some kind, and have higher perceived levels of stress, the chances are you will benefit from magnesium supplementation on top of a healthy diet.
It should also be noted as well that diets extremely rich in phytates commonly found in grains, pulses, nuts, seeds etc. may impact magnesium levels because of their ability to interfere with magnesium absorption. Cooking, sprouting and soaking of these foods can significantly reduce phytates and may be adequate to avoid such issues.
Different forms of magnesium
A lot of people consider all magnesium supplements to be the same. You go in a shop or onto an online store, you find a magnesium supplement and you buy it.
Yet what most people are unaware of is that there are different forms of magnesium that relate to what the magnesium is bound to (chelated to), and that will dictate their impact on the body and absorption rates. Some magnesium chelates such as magnesium oxide have an absorption rate of around 4%, whereas magnesium citrate and glycinate have absorption rates around the 90% mark.
I will selectively use different forms of magnesium based upon a clients lifestyle, symptoms, physical demands and when possible red blood cell magnesium test results.
When to use certain forms of magnesium
Lets have a look at certain forms of magnesium I might use and why:
- Magnesium citrate or hydroxide to assist with bowel motility in those with constipation for controlled symptomatic relief.
- Magnesium malate to support those with energy issues or chronic muscle pain/fibromyalgia.
- Magnesium glycinate post training to enhance recovery and muscle relaxation, and as a magnesium for people with anxiety or sleep issues. Magnesium glycinate is also one of the most absorbable forms of magnesium available.
- Magnesium threonate for those with cognitive/memory issues.
- Magnesium sulfate or chloride only in bath salts or transdermal creams, as they are both potent laxatives, hence they are used to clear out bowels prior to colonoscopies (bowel assessments). In baths however they can be really effective at supporting muscle relaxation by increasing blood levels of magnesium through absorption through the skin.
The most common form of magnesium used is oxide. This is a very poorly absorbed form of magnesium. I often judge multivitamins and minerals based upon the chelate forms of minerals they use in their products. If I see a lot of zinc oxide, magnesium oxide etc. I know it is a poorly formulated supplement created at the lowest possible price.
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