Magnesium is the Missing Piece in Your Micronutrient Puzzle
The Role of Magnesium in the Human Body
There are many vitamins, micronutrients, and trace minerals involved in important bodily processes, and as very few of these can be made by the body, we can consider 24 of them to be essential. Here we’re focusing on one of the macrominerals most significant for athletes: magnesium.
Magnesium is categorized as a macromineral, along with sodium, calcium, and potassium because it’s needed in larger quantities than trace minerals like copper, zinc, and selenium to maintain optimal function. Like most other minerals, magnesium is not made by the body and so it must be consumed in adequate quantities from food and supplementation. Though the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for magnesium are 310 to 420 mg depending on body weight and age, it’s missing from many people’s diets and even athletes who consume that much may not be getting enough (for more on why, see the Magnesium and Athletes section below.)
While the “micro” in micronutrient might suggest a lesser importance, the small amounts of magnesium needed each day make a big impact on overall health and wellbeing. It’s involved in over 300 enzyme systems responsible for all manner of vital processes. These include keeping the brain alert, synthesizing DNA and RNA, and modulating the immune system. There is also evidence to suggest that high dietary intake of magnesium helps reduce the frequency of severity of headaches and migraines, and can be used as a non-pharmaceutical treatment to aid people suffering from fibromyalgia. While more studies are needed, researchers have made correlations between adequate magnesium levels and increased focus, implying that the macromineral might be useful for people who have attention-deficit disorders and those who struggle to focus.
Magnesium and Athletes
When the body undergoes physical, cognitive, or emotional duress – such as during training and competition – it starts to gobble up magnesium faster and faster. This can result in feeling irritable and anxious. You also lose some magnesium when you sweat – another reason that athletes can be magnesium-deficient. While many athletes fixate on sodium loss during activity, replenishing magnesium, potassium, and other electrolytes is also a must for maintaining hydration.
For athletes, this deficiency can become a real problem, as sufficient magnesium is required to regulate muscular contractions, energy production at the cellular level, and nervous system function. It also helps to manage heart rate, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular processes by transporting calcium and potassium across cell membranes, making magnesium a must for endurance athletes who need their heart and lungs to function optimally throughout longer events. Magnesium is involved in keeping blood glucose level stable as well, which means its critical in avoiding the “bonk” that runners, cyclists, and triathletes dread.
From a recovery standpoint, getting adequate magnesium is just as vital as performance during a workout. Magnesium is involved in protein metabolism, which is a key reason we added it to both of our Momentous Recovery formulas. Another role of magnesium is promoting the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that encourages restful sleep. While some level of exercise-induced inflammation after training is desirable as it prompts adaptation, if an athlete becomes chronically inflamed, this can compromise their performance and lead to discomfort from ongoing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston discovered that people with low intake of magnesium had higher levels of C-reactive protein, a key indicator of inflammation that often correlates to cardiovascular disease.
Another aspect of the musculoskeletal system that benefits from magnesium is bone health. The mineral is responsible for maintaining bone density and the new bone formation that occurs from persistent training stress (Wolff's Law states that weight-bearing exercise prompts bones to grow and re-shape).
And yet, for all the advantages magnesium can provide to active people, a study published in Nutrition Reviews estimated that 50 percent of American adults are deficient in it. That figure might be even higher among athletes, due to their bodies using up magnesium at a faster rate than the general population.
"If an athlete is deficient in vitamins or minerals, they are putting themselves at a significant disadvantage and drastically shortchanging their training,” said Sam Kavarsky Momentous Performance Engineer and founder of Science Over Tradition. “Unfortunately, it is becoming more challenging to achieve optimal magnesium levels through food alone as bioavailability is often drastically depleted as a result of poor soil quality and a number of different cooking methods.
As a result, low red blood cell magnesium levels are all too common in both general and athletic populations. Low levels negatively impact insulin receptors and increase intracellular calcium concentrations, which are directly associated with insulin sensitivity. Research has shown that three months of quality magnesium supplementation can significantly improve an individual’s HOMA-IR index, an assessment of insulin resistance and fasting glucose.”
Magnesium Forms: Malate, Amino Acid Chelate, and Buffered
The Momentous Recovery formulas utilize two high quality forms of magnesium. Our Strength Recovery protein includes a magnesium amino acid chelate while our Endurance Recovery employs magnesium malate. The distinguishing factor in our selection lies in compliance — the magnesium malate in our Endurance Recovery protein is fully NCAA compliant, while the amino acid chelate is considered by some collegiate programs to be a grey are as amino acids in their free form are not permitted.
Magnesium malate is created by combining elemental magnesium with malic acid. Whereas some magnesium supplements claim high levels of magnesium oxide on their labels, these are largely irrelevant as that form of the mineral has low availability once inside the body. In contrast, the hybrid malate version creates a fully organic compound that is more readily absorbed than either magnesium citrates, sulfates, or oxides. The malic acid component of magnesium malate – also found in apples, broccoli, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables – plays an important part in energy metabolism.
“While certain types of chelated magnesium are great for promoting recovery and even relaxation, magnesium malate should be a prerequisite for any athlete training for an extended period of time,” Kavarsky said. “It plays a direct role in both aerobic metabolism and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). In sports, there are a number of different variables that an athlete has no control over. Fueling is NOT one of them. Consuming a high-quality, grass-fed whey in conjunction with magnesium should be a requirement for anyone looking to perform at their best day in and day out.”
The magnesium amino-acid chelate that is found in our Strength Recovery formulas shines in its quality and bioavailability. By binding the mineral with amino acid, we are able to improve mineral absorption. Chelated magnesium sources have also been proven to improve cognitive function, relieve inflammation, and help muscles relax post-workout.
It’s important to note that some supplement suppliers have started using what they called “buffered” magnesium, in which they add a small amount of malate to cheaper chelated magnesium to increase absorption and avoid the kind of digestive issues that products containing poorly absorbed oxides and carbonates forms can cause. In those cases, you’re not getting a pure dose of either type of magnesium, and therefore the word “buffered” on supplement labels is good to watch-out for and avoid.
In summary, magnesium is a “micro” nutrient, but there’s no doubt that it’s a mighty one. Everyone should try to include more magnesium-rich foods like beans, pumpkin seeds, and nuts in your diet, and look for products that contain magnesium malate or amino acid chelate to make sure your levels of this vital mineral stay topped up. If you do so, you’ll be one step closer to the high performance you demand of yourself and the full recovery you need.