Most people know of the mineral magnesium, and that it is important to ensure you consume a sufficient amount of it daily, blah, blah, blah, but sadly, this is where the conversation ends most times. However, magnesium should be considered the rightful heir to the mineral throne, one that is currently occupied by more well-known characters such as calcium and zinc.
The truth is, the vast majority of adults are deficient in magnesium, worsened if you are an athlete and do not actively work at increasing your intake. Of course, this can have far-reaching implications on your athletic endeavours, and may be a major cause of the lacklustre results you see from the time you invest in yourself.
That can all change today, so prepare to have your mind blown by the majestic magnesium.
How Magnesium Helps Athletes
Magnesium is one of those minerals that has several bona fide benefits on the body as a whole, but we will try to limit our focus to the benefits most pertinent to you as an athlete. These include:
Supports Energy Production
As an avid athlete, you probably know more than the average individual about ATP and its importance in helping to support effective workouts. While this is great, there is a way you can improve the production of this energy currency more than we create alone, and that would be by using magnesium.
Production of ATP involves several steps, some of which are dependent on enzymes known as ATPases. These enzymes require copious amounts of magnesium to catalyse the reaction necessary to produce ATP[i], so you can see why a deficiency of this mineral can quickly lead to diminished energy levels.
To put this into perspective, per hour in the gym it is estimated that about 15 kg of ATP is broken down to meet energy requirements, but at any one time only about 100 g is stored. If production cannot meet demand, you are unlikely to complete workouts you had in mind.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
One of the lesser-known, yet very important functions of the mineral magnesium is its ability to help improve the sensitivity of insulin[ii]. This may be especially important in sedentary individuals now embarking on a fitness program, or anyone who possesses a little too much fat and likely poor insulin sensitivity.
Poor insulin sensitivity and associated hyperglycaemia creates a self-propagating cycle of destruction, since they further deplete magnesium levels in the body. This can often times be reversed with the supplementation of magnesium based supplements, saving you from an early death owing to metabolic disease.
If you are a hard training bodybuilder or strength athlete, there is much on offer for you as well. By enhancing insulin sensitivity, this hormone becomes extremely efficient at shuttling glucose and amino acids into muscle cells after your workout, helping to put on display the true anabolic potency of insulin.
Puts The Reins On Cortisol
Cortisol is well known as the villain of world-class physiques everywhere. From promoting the storage of excessive visceral (abdominal) fat, to actively suppressing testosterone production, we are at the mercy of this hormone.
Luckily, this is another way magnesium supplementation can help. Best known as the stress hormone, cortisol secretion can be exacerbated by both physical and emotional/psychological stress. Higher levels of the stress hormone in turn lower testosterone and deplete magnesium, causing a cascade of adverse effects.
Magnesium supplementation modulates the activity of the pituitary gland, in particular the release of ACTH[iii], which downstream stimulates the adrenal glands to increase the production of cortisol. By tempering the release of ACTH, there is no hyper stimulation of the stress hormone, but rather a physiological normal to maintain body processes.
If you’ve ever used a ZMA supplement before, you might have realized that it contains magnesium as part of its novel formulation. What you may not have realized, is why magnesium is there in the first place.
See, the utility of magnesium and its role in an almost endless number of biochemical reactions means that it is capable of stimulating, and shutting down several of them, which can help you get more shuteye.
For instance, magnesium recruits the parasympathetic nervous system, involved in relaxation and calming you, considered the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system in stimulating the body.
In addition to this, as we previously mentioned by modulating activity of ACTH, it reduces excitatory impulses generated by the adrenal glands, and coupled with its binding affinity for GABA receptors, it promotes a state of sleepiness. Prescription sleep medications sometimes act in the same manner, by binding to the GABA receptor[iv].
Top this off with the fact that it helps improve the quality of deep restorative sleep, and can regulate the hormone melatonin in your body’s sleep-wake circadian rhythm[v], and you can see why magnesium is likely the best thing ever for sleep.
Supports Protein Synthesis
It’s not breaking news that muscle growth occurs outside the gym, but it may be that you don’t fully appreciate how important sleep is to your bottom line. The fact of the matter is that the lion’s share of recovery occurs during shut eye, as cells undergo active repair during deep restorative sleep.
Did you know which hormone rules the land of sleep? Meet growth hormone. Primarily produced during sleep, this hormone plays a primary role in hyper trophy and cellular repair. Sub optimal sleep corresponds to suboptimal recovery. Since growth hormone levels peak during stage IV slow-wave sleep, you can see how magnesium plays a starring role in maximizing your muscle gain and recuperative ability.
Magnesium plays an important role in regulation of GH secretion, but its effect seems to be much more notable in combination with zinc as the effective supplement ZMA[vi].
While the benefits outlined above can be considered athlete specific, there are many other important functions that rests in its capable hands as well. For instance, the majority of magnesium in the body is stored in bone tissue, and for good reason, since it helps support the structural integrity of the bone matrix. High bone mass density means that your body is able to bear extremely heavy loads without having bones snapping under the pressure (think of 200 kilogram and beyond squats).
Other noteworthy benefits include supporting healthy mental and cognitive function, managing migraines, optimizing blood pressure and cardiovascular function, as well as supporting healthy electrolyte balance.
How Much Magnesium?
Unless you are in an acute state of deficiency, the normal recommended daily intake is between 310 to 420 mg daily, but keep in mind that individual tolerances differ. Some people are more prone to gastrointestinal symptoms than others, so a good rule of thumb is to start with 200 mg daily and adjust from there.
There also exists several different forms of magnesium, such as the oxide, gylcinate, and threonate varieties. Magnesium oxide is considered standard for most people, but possesses poorest and most unpredictable absorption. This is why gylcinate is considered the gold standard in terms of balancing absorption and pricing, although threonate boasts slightly improved absorption but at an exorbitant cost.
Magnesium is one of those supplements that isn’t given the recognition it deserves. Hopefully, that changes now considering that you been enlightened to its many important benefits that can help further your progress as an athlete.
Start today – add 200 mg daily to your supplement regimen and let the results speak for themselves!
[i] Pilotelle-Bunner A, Cornelius F, Sebban P, Kuchel PW, Clarke RJ. Mechanism of Mg2+ binding in the Na+,K+-ATPase. Biophys J. 2009;96(9):3753–3761. doi:10.1016/j.bpj.2009.01.042
[ii] Wang J, Persuitte G, Olendzki BC, et al. Dietary magnesium intake improves insulin resistance among non-diabetic individuals with metabolic syndrome participating in a dietary trial. Nutrients. 2013;5(10):3910–3919. Published 2013 Sep 27. doi:10.3390/nu5103910
[iii] Boyle NB, Lawton C, Dye L. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017;9(5):429. Published 2017 Apr 26. doi:10.3390/nu9050429
[iv] Poleszak E. Benzodiazepine/GABA(A) receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice. Pharmacol Rep. 2008 Jul-Aug;60(4):483-9. PubMed PMID: 18799816.
[v] Durlach J, Pagès N, Bac P, Bara M, Guiet-Bara A. Biorhythms and possiblecentral regulation of magnesium status, phototherapy, darkness therapy and chronopathological forms of magnesium depletion. Magnes Res. 2002
Mar;15(1-2):49-66. Review. PubMed PMID: 12030424.
[vi] Wilborn CD, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. Effects of Zinc Magnesium Aspartate (ZMA) Supplementation on Training Adaptations and Markers of Anabolism and Catabolism. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2004;1(2):12–20. Published 2004 Dec 31. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-1-2-12