Supplement Spotlight: Magnesium

If you’ve ever walked into a vitamin or supplement store, you know the sheer volume of the pills, powders, and vitamins can feel overwhelming. What’s useful or relevant to your routine? Is the supplement you’re holding backed by science or a sketchy infomercial shenanigan? It’s enough to make your head spin, really.

Last time in our supplement spotlight we looked at BCAAs and Amino Acids. Today, we’re going to look at magnesium, the role it plays in our health and fitness and some of its forms on the supplement market.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. I only recommend products I have tried or believe would be beneficial. All opinions in my product reviews are my own, honest thoughts. 

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral found throughout nature. It’s present in the earth, the ocean, plant and animal life and most importantly, in you. It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and each and every one of your organs utilizes magnesium to function smoothly. It also plays part in the makeup of your teeth, bones, and all the way down to a cellular level within your DNA.

Improving your body’s magnesium levels has been shown to boost athletic performance, help prevent chronic illness and disease, fight anxiety and depression and even improve PMS symptoms. Unfortunately, research shows that many people fail to meet the daily recommendations for magnesium intake. It’s even possible to be experiencing some funky side effects of a magnesium deficiency and not even realize it.

What does it do?

Magnesium plays quite a few important roles throughout the body and in your brain. It’s involved in over 600 bodily functions and helps our bodies do things like:

  • Break down and convert food into energy
  • Control blood pressure
  • Synthesize protein and form new muscle
  • Regulate the nervous system
  • Initiate muscular contraction and relaxation
  • Synthesize and repair DNA and RNA
  • Regulate insulin levels

Magnesium’s function within the body also takes part in the prevention and treatment of many diseases. Insufficient magnesium levels have been linked to a number of chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, insulin resistance, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and stroke, migraines and even ADHA.

Is Magnesium used in the medical field?

Yes, it is utilized as a component of some prescription and over the counter medications and is routinely employed in various forms (like milk of magnesia or intravenous magnesium) in hospitals and ERs.

A review by the American Phycological Society affirmed that magnesium supplementation has been effective in treating a variety of conditions, including preeclampsia, coronary artery disease, asthma and depression.

Magnesium intake has also been linked to the prevention of certain types of cancer. The British Journal of Cancer published a 2015 study citing findings that magnesium intake may be beneficial in the prevention of pancreatic cancer. Another 2014 study indicated dietary magnesium intake may also help protect against colon cancer in women.

Magnesium deficiency

Insufficient magnesium is extremely common, both in the US and Europe. One 2005-2006 study found that nearly half (48 percent) of the US population was not getting in daily magnesium recommendations. So what are some of the signs to look for when it comes to low magnesium?

According to the National Institutes of Health, early signs of low magnesium include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If magnesium levels continue to dwindle, over time a case of low-magnesium can progress into a magnesium deficiency. Some symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Numbness, tingling or cramps in muscles
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • Poor sleep or sleep disorders
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Muscle spasm and weakness
  • Hyperventilation
  • Insomnia
  • Poor nail growth
  • Seizures

If you think you may be noticing signs of low or deficient magnesium, it may be time to have a talk with your doctor.

How much magnesium do you need?

The National Institutes of Health recommends the men 19-30 take in 400mg of magnesium daily and 420mg for men 31 and up. For women 19-30, it recommends 310mg a day and 320mg women 31 and up (with a 40mg increase for both age categories during pregnancy).

Are magnesium supplements safe?

Like amino acids, magnesium is a natural element already present in and regularly utilized by your body. Oral and dietary magnesium supplements are supported by science and medical research and widely available.

Talk with your doctor before implementing a new supplement into your nutritional routine; they’ll be able to provide you with recommendations for which form of magnesium supplementation is a good fit for you. Particularly if you suffer from any pre-existing health conditions (especially ones that impact your gut or digestive system) or currently take any medications to be certain of how a magnesium supplement may interact with your condition or medicine.

magnesium Supplements

The best way to begin naturally boosting magnesium is by incorporating magnesium-rich foods into your diet. Nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, avocados, bananas, some fatty fish, tofu and even dark chocolate are some great sources (as if we needed any more excuse to eat chocolate… amirite, ladies?). But even with a mindful diet, you may still benefit from a magnesium supplement if you’re struggling to get the recommended intake.

Magnesium supplements come commonly in pill and powder forms and can vary in structure and dose concentration. Forms of magnesium that dissolve in liquid are better absorbed by the gut than less soluble forms. Some research also advocates that magnesium in the form of aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride is more completely absorbed by the body than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate (so check out the ingredient list to see which form of magnesium a supplement utilizes).

Magnesium and Athletic Performance

Whether you’re an athlete or a good old fashion gym rat, your performance on the field or in the gym could require a higher magnesium intake. Because of its role in things like muscle function, oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte balance, magnesium and its impacts on exercise has garnered a good bit of attention in scientific research.

As part of its function in creating energy and transporting nutrients throughout the body, magnesium helps transfer sugar into your muscles and move lactic acid out of them during exercise. Lactic acid is a compound that builds up within muscles during exercise that fatigues and slows the body down. (Anyone else remember that episode of The Magic School Bus where the class had to mop up Miss Frizzle’s lactic acid so she could win the Teacherathalon? No? Just me? Okay, then.)  A 2014 study found that a boost in magnesium 30 minutes before exercise resulted in enhanced glucose availability and greater lactate acid clearance in the subjects’ muscles during exercise.

Another publication examined the relationship between magnesium and strenuous exercise, concluding that magnesium levels can be depleted through urinary and sweat loss and may require a 10-20 percent boost during vigorous exercise. A 2014 study in The Journal of Sports Sciences reported a significant boost in performance of a volleyball team who took a daily 350 mg magnesium supplement, while other studies show magnesium supplementation successfully boosting exercise performance in not only athletes but also the elderly and individuals with chronic disease.

My favorite magnesium supplements:

There are a lot of magnesium supplements out there, and I can’t speak to the effectiveness of them all. But I can share my personal experience with ones I have tried and found helpful so far on my own fitness journey.

With an active lifestyle and training schedule, one of my goals for this supplement was improving performance in the gym and compensating for any magnesium depletion through exercise. Since magnesium is also connected to muscular contraction/relaxation, improving sleep and protein synthesis, I also hoped to achieve better rest and recovery.

I’ve tried a couple generic drug store brands of magnesium tablets in the past, but wasn’t overly impressed with them. But one product that has made a difference in my routine is ZMA.

Optimum Nutrition ZMA Capsules

ZMA is a combination of Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate, and Vitamin B6 and is geared towards athletes to aid in increasing endurance, muscular healing and growth and restful sleep. I take it before bed and began noticing a big difference in the quality of my sleep within the first week as well as feeling better overall energy throughout the day. I like Optimum Nutrition as a brand and use their ZMA supplement in capsule form. A 30-day supply (90 capsules) retails for about $12 online.

Where can I get them?

As earlier noted, magnesium supplements are widely available. You can find them in vitamin and supplement shops, your local pharmacy or drug store and through various websites online. Personally, I do order the majority of my supplements online. I get free shipping through Amazon Prime and it supports my hermit lifestyle of shopping while I stay at home, wrapped within a protective Snuggie and house slippers.

And that’s a wrap on our supplement spotlight for the week! The world of supplements is a vast and sometimes overwhelming place. But I’ve found that taking it one supplement at a time (with a little research and learning) has gone a long way in helping me feel comfortable and confident with the products I introduce into my routine. Hopefully, our look into magnesium supplements today will help you feel more confident in your own nutritional exploration as well.

All writing copyright © 2017 Rachel Elise Weems Woods

Disclosure: I am in no way sponsored by or affiliated with Optimum Nutrition. All opinions are my own. Some of the links above are affiliate links and, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to click through and make a purchase. Utilizing affiliate links is one of the ways I support my work to keep delivering great content on my blog.

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14. Nicola VeroneseLinda BertonSara CarraroFrancesco BolzettaMarina De RuiEgle PerissinottoElena Debora ToffanelloGiulia BanoSimona PizzatoFabrizia MiottoAlessandra CoinEnzo Manzato, Giuseppe Sergi. “Effect of oral magnesium supplementation on physical performance in healthy elderly women involved in a weekly exercise program: a randomized controlled trial” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1, Sept. 2014
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18. Daniel DibabaPengcheng XunKuninobu YokotaEmily White, Ka He. “Magnesium intake and incidence of pancreatic cancer: the VITamins and Lifestyle study.” Nature News, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 10 Nov. 2015.
19. Hae Jin Ko,Chang Ho Youn,Hyo Min Kim,Yoon Jeong Cho,Geon Ho Lee, Won Kee Lee. “Dietary Magnesium Intake and Risk of Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Epidemiologic Studies.” Taylor & Francis, 9 June 2014. Nutrition and Cancer, Volume 66, 2014 – Issue 6
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21. “Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: are the health consequences underestimated?” Oxford Academic, Oxford University, 8 Oct. 2014. Nutrition Reviews, Volume 70, Issue 3, 1 March 2012, Pages 153–164

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