Magnesium: The Lost Performance Booster
For how little the mineral magnesium is discussed, you might think it’s not that important to our health. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth, especially when it comes to athletic performance.
Once you start to understand the important role of magnesium as it relates to overall mood, cognitive function, and basic metabolic functions of the body, you’ll want to ensure your diet contains the right amount and types of magnesium.
Athletes and Muscle Cramps
If you search online or talk to anyone in the sport nutrition industry for an answer as to why we experience muscle cramps, and more importantly how to prevent them, you likely came back with more questions than answers. This is because little to nothing is known about muscle cramps.
Most of the research and general knowledge stems from the thought that muscle cramps are due to a fluid imbalance or electrolyte imbalance involving sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. In my opinion, muscle cramps may be a sign of a magnesium deficiency in the diet rather than calcium, potassium, or sodium, which are easier to find and consume in a general diet.
Magnesium plays an important role in stabilizing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy source for muscle contraction, and also serves as an electrolyte in body fluids. Muscle weakness, muscle twitching, and muscle cramps have been related and shown to be common symptoms of a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium is just one aspect of maintaining proper electrolyte balance that is needed in the prevention of muscle cramps. Another important factor is fluid balance. Have any questions about how to calculate your own sweat rate? Check out this blog.
Yes, I said sleep “performance.” We need to start thinking about sleep as another key factor in overall performance, especially when it comes to athletes and those weekend warrior types.
The role in sleep comes from magnesium’s ability to suppresses cortisol levels and allow a person to return to a “relaxed” state sooner after a period of fight or flight response. This flight or fight response is what we would call a training session or game. Since magnesium is an essential electrolyte and mineral, it improves the electrical activity in the brain, improving memory and retention. It also has the capacity to keep the synapses open and firing more easily, with minimal interference.
This means you can think quicker on your feet, focus better and even improve your overall intelligence and cognitive abilities by increasing your body’s stores of magnesium. All of these are traits that can help our athletes perform to the best of their abilities.
Why is magnesium so important in sleep performance? Magnesium acts as a relaxant to the nervous system and helps alleviate the effects of cortisol, the “stress” hormone that is commonly released during a training session. It also acts as a muscle relaxant. This is why Epsom salts, which are magnesium sulfate, are used by athletes to soothe sore muscles and by people with afflictions such as arthritis and other painful joint and muscle issues.
Role in Metabolism & Recovery
Magnesium plays a key role in the metabolism of food. It helps synthesize food into energy more effectively, minimizing fat storage which can be associated with maintaining or increasing lean body mass. Athletes in all sports can benefit by increasing their power to weight ratio.
Magnesium’s role in synthesizing food into energy also means less caloric waste and more effective use of calories or energy. As an athlete or weekend warrior, half the battle is being able to wake up the next day feeling fresh and energized without any soreness. That sore feeling can be lessened if our diet contains the right amount of magnesium. People having trouble losing weight even after diet modification and increasing activity may be magnesium deficient as well.
Food Sources & Supplements
Magnesium can be found most abundantly in darker leafy greens and vegetables, nuts, and legumes. However, there is some evidence that magnesium is more effectively absorbed by the body when absorbed through the skin. There are two ways to go about this:
- Purchase a pure magnesium spray. They are inexpensive and a bottle will last you a long time; you only need a few sprays to get the job done.
- Soak in Epsom salts, which are magnesium sulfate. Recommended soaking time is about 30 minutes for maximum benefit.
General guidelines to remember when we’re talking about supplementation with magnesium:
- Any form of magnesium can be used to diminish a magnesium deficiency, except magnesium L-threonate. It contains less elemental magnesium per dose.
- Gastrointestinal side-effects (ex. diarrhea, bloating) are more common when magnesium oxide or magnesium chloride are supplemented.
- In general, magnesium citrate is a good choice for supplementation. Magnesium L-threonate can be used for cognitive enhancement.
- Spinach — 1 cup: 157 milligrams
- Chard — 1 cup: 154 milligrams
- Pumpkin seeds — 1/8 cup: 92 milligrams
- Yogurt — 1 cup: 50 milligrams
- Almonds — 1 ounce: 80 milligrams
- Black Beans — ½ cup: 60 milligrams
- Avocado — 1 medium: 58 milligrams
- Figs — ½ cup: 50 milligrams
- Dark Chocolate — 1 square: 95 milligrams
- Banana — 1 medium: 32 milligrams
- Salmon – 1 oz: 35 milligrams
- Cheese (American) – 1 oz: 18 milligrams
For more information about what it takes to succeed on the playing field outside of training sessions, you can schedule a no obligation consultation with one of our dietitians at Elite Performance & Nutrition today.