Dedicated weightlifters are serious about their supplements. And while most supplement stashes contain protein powder, branch chain amino acids, creatine, and select vitamins, there seems to be one much-needed supplement (or mineral) missing from many gym bags: Magnesium.
The often-missed mineral is rarely seen as an essential supplement for weightlifters when in reality is crucial for overall physical performance, and mental, and physical health.
“Magnesium is essential for muscle function, preventing cramps and fatigue during workouts, and supporting optimal energy production through ATP synthesis,’ explains Dr. Molly Maloof, MD, medical advisor, entrepreneur, author, and MitoQ expert who provides health optimization and personalized medical research to high achieving entrepreneurs, investors, and technology executives.
“Magnesium also aids nervous system function, enhancing coordination and reducing the risk of injuries during lifts. By promoting blood vessel dilation, it improves oxygen delivery to muscles, enhancing endurance and performance.”
Furthermore, “Magnesium supports bone health, reduces post-workout muscle soreness, maintains electrolyte balance, and regulates hormones like IGF-1 and testosterone, promoting muscle growth and recovery.”
Unfortunately, Half of all Americans are Magnesium deficient which means some athletes are not reaching their full potential due to low magnesium levels. And the tricky part is, they may have no idea that their magnesium levels are low.
The good news is, “Incorporating magnesium-rich foods and supplements, as needed, can be a valuable strategy for weightlifters to optimize their training and results,” explains Dr. Maloof.
With that, this guide will cover everything, you, as a weightlifter need to know about this muscle-supporting mineral.
Good to Know: Magnesium isn’t produced internally by our bodies
Instead, we have to rely on our dietary choices to ensure an adequate magnesium intake. “To maintain equilibrium, our bodies balance magnesium levels through a combination of dietary absorption, kidney excretion, and intestinal reabsorption, ensuring that excess magnesium is efficiently eliminated via urine, when necessary,” explains Maloof, placing the importance on magnesium-rich foods and supplements.
The Dangers of Low Magnesium
Low magnesium alone produces unfavorable symptoms; however, Dr. Maloof explains severe magnesium deficiency, known as hypomagnesemia, poses significant health risks that can result in a range of serious consequences, including gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting, irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and palpitations, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), fine hand tremors, and an increased risk of seizures.
Dr. Maloof stresses that monitoring and maintaining adequate magnesium levels is crucial to prevent these potentially severe health complications.
Here are some symptoms to look for if your body is lacking proper levels of magnesium.
You May Experience These Symptoms if You’re Low in Magnesium
“Recognizing these signs is essential for addressing magnesium deficiency and promoting overall well-being,” says Dr. Maloof, and stresses that low magnesium levels in the body can manifest in several common symptoms, including muscle cramps, spasms, and weakness due to magnesium’s role in muscle function and energy production.
“A loss of appetite may be noted, alongside abnormal heart rhythms, tingling or numbness, and mood changes, which can have long-term effects on mental health.” Additionally, Dr. Maloof explains some individuals may experience elevated blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and even cravings for magnesium-rich foods like chocolate.
A visit with your Primary care physician is the best way to test for magnesium deficiency.
Breaking Down the Many Types of Magnesium (And how to know which on to take)
With the many kinds of Magnesium, it’s hard to know which supplement to choose based on what our body needs. Here, Dr. Maloof explains each type of magnesium and what it’s best suited for.
- Magnesium Glycinate is great for improving sleep quality. It is easily absorbable and is unlikely to cause digestive issues. Magnesium glycinate is bound to glycine, an amino acid known for its calming effects, making it a great choice for improving sleep.
- Magnesium Chloride is best for addressing overall magnesium deficiency. Magnesium chloride is available as a topical spray, sometimes referred to as “magnesium oil.” It is absorbed effectively through the skin and is particularly useful for individuals with digestive issues or mineral imbalances caused by conditions such as insufficient stomach acid or chronic stress.
- Magnesium Malate is a great magnesium for boosting energy levels and relaxing muscles. It combines elemental magnesium with malic acid, aiding cellular energy production.
- Magnesium Threonate is great for cognition, memory, and focus enhancement because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, aiding quick absorption.
- Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt) is excellent for detoxification and muscle pain relief. Epsom salts are found in most grocery stores or pharmacies for making Epsom salt baths which are great for relieving sore muscles.
- Magnesium Oxide can be used to promote regular bowel movements. However, it may cause diarrhea if taken in excess. Magnesium citrate is better absorbed than magnesium oxide but both are used for laxative effects so be careful with your dose.
- Magnesium Citrate is another option for constipation. If you’re experiencing constipation, taking small doses of magnesium citrate can help while providing necessary magnesium. Magnesium citrate can also help you relax and help reduce muscle twitches that show up with magnesium deficiency and high stress.
A Deeper Look at Why Magnesium is Crucial for the Human Body
Magnesium plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the human body including:
- Enzyme Activation: Magnesium is a cofactor for hundreds of enzymes in the body such as energy production (ATP synthesis), DNA and RNA synthesis, protein synthesis, and the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
- Muscle Function: Magnesium is necessary for muscle contraction and relaxation by facilitating the release of calcium ions, which are essential for muscle contraction. Adequate magnesium levels can prevent muscle cramps and spasms.
- Nervous System Function: It plays a role in transmitting nerve signals and maintaining nerve cell membranes’ stability.
- Heart Health: Magnesium is crucial for maintaining a steady heartbeat and normal blood pressure. It helps relax blood vessels which helps with blood flow and supporting overall cardiovascular health.
- Bone Health: About 60% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones, where it contributes to bone structure and density. It works in concert with calcium and vitamin D to promote bone health and maintain bone density as you age.
- Energy Production: Magnesium is a key component in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the body’s primary energy currency. Without sufficient magnesium, cells cannot efficiently generate energy.
- Blood Sugar Regulation: Magnesium helps regulate blood sugar levels by influencing insulin’s activity and enhancing the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
- DNA and RNA Stability: Magnesium is necessary for the stability of DNA and RNA molecules, the genetic material that codes for all our body’s functions.
- Immune System Support: It plays a role in immune system function, helping the body be ready and respond to germs quickly.
- Stress Reduction: Magnesium can have a calming effect on the nervous system and may help reduce stress. It supports the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which contributes to mood regulation. Furthermore, stress hormones, including both catecholamines and corticoids, can promote a reduction in tissue magnesium levels so it’s extra important to get more magnesium during times of high stress.
- Detoxification: Magnesium is involved in the body’s natural detoxification processes of heavy metals and other toxins.
The Many Reasons Americans Are Magnesium-Deficient
Several factors contribute to magnesium deficiency in the United States and in many Western countries. Here, Dr. Maloof dives deeper into why Americans (and even athletes) are so low in magnesium.
- Dietary Choices: The Western diet often lacks magnesium-rich foods because of its heavy emphasis on processed and refined foods, which are typically low in magnesium. Fast food, sugary snacks, and refined grains offer little magnesium compared to whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
- Depleted Soil: Modern agricultural practices have led to soil depletion of essential minerals, including magnesium. As a result, even when people consume magnesium-rich foods, the magnesium content in these foods may be lower than in the past.
- High-Caffeine and Alcohol Intake: Both caffeine and alcohol can lead to increased magnesium excretion through urine. Individuals who consume excessive amounts of coffee, tea, or alcohol may be at a higher risk of magnesium deficiency.
- Chronic Stress: High levels of stress, which are prevalent in modern society, can deplete magnesium levels in the body. As mentioned above, stress triggers the release of stress hormones, which can lead to increased urinary excretion of magnesium.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, and some antibiotics, can interfere with magnesium absorption or increase its excretion.
- Digestive Disorders: Conditions that affect the digestive system, like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can impair the absorption of magnesium and other nutrients.
- Lifestyle Factors: Sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise can affect magnesium metabolism. Regular physical activity can help improve magnesium utilization in the body.
Beyond Supplements, These Food Choices Will Boost Your Magnesium Levels
Many whole, unprocessed foods are rich sources of magnesium. Even as a fitness enthusiast, you (and your muscles) may be missing out on some of these important foods.
- Leafy Green Vegetables: Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens are high in magnesium.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are excellent sources of magnesium.
- Avocado: Avocados are not only nutritious but also provide a good amount of magnesium.
- Bananas: This fruit contains magnesium and can be a healthy snack option.
- Fatty Fish: Some fish like mackerel and salmon provide magnesium along with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Dark Chocolate: High-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or higher is a tasty source of magnesium
- Fruits: Some fruits like figs, papayas, and apricots have magnesium.
- Seafood: Seafood such as shrimp, crab, and scallops provide magnesium.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are magnesium-rich options. Tofu and other soy products can be good sources of magnesium, especially for vegetarians and vegans.
- Whole Grains: whole kernel grains like oats and pseudo-grains like quinoa are known for their higher magnesium content than refined grains
Good to Know:
To ensure you’re getting enough magnesium from your diet, Dr. Maloof recommends eating a variety of magnesium-rich foods regularly, opting for whole, unprocessed foods over highly- processed options, incorporating leafy greens, nuts, and seeds into salads, smoothies, and snacks, and enjoy a balanced diet that includes a mix of different food groups. Maloof also suggests additional supplementation, including MitoQ’s MitoQ +Heart which combines magnesium with L-carnitine and vitamin D3 and the company’s own highly bioavailable form of coenzyme Q10.
Now that you know how important magnesium is for your gym performance and overall health, now is the best time to focus on adding magnesium-rich foods and supplements to your lifting program!