Written by Felicity Downes-Casipit (Naturopath, BNat.)
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral found in abundance within our bodies. Roughly half of all the magnesium in our body can be found in the bone whilst the remainder can be found within cells and organs, leaving just a little to circulate in the blood. Hundreds of enzymatic reactions rely on adequate levels of magnesium; without it, our body simply couldn’t function properly.
Magnesium has a vast array of functions within the body, however, most people may be familiar with magnesium and its use for mild muscle cramping or mild muscle twitches and spasms. Magnesium has a great affinity for muscular complaints, which makes it a great mineral to turn to when such ailments occur.
How exactly does magnesium work for healthy muscle function?
Magnesium works closely with calcium in the body. While calcium stimulates muscular contractions, magnesium promotes muscle relaxation. The coordinated movement of calcium and magnesium across cell membranes ensures that muscles contract and relax properly. Don’t forget that the heart is a big muscle, so the right balance of magnesium and calcium is essential to make sure that heart health is being maintained.
Due to the high level of magnesium contained in muscle cells, it is especially important for athletes or those who exercise regularly. As magnesium is lost through sweat, those who are very active may experience a heightened need for the mineral1. Magnesium is an essential electrolyte which is why many sports drinks include magnesium to assist in replenishing levels that may have been depleted through perspiration.
Recent studies have shown that magnesium supplementation decreases oxygen requirements during exercise, making workouts more efficient with better recovery. Further research suggests that improvements in muscle performance may be due to the role that magnesium plays in protein synthesis and energy production1.
How can you use magnesium to support muscle performance and improve recovery time?
Depending on the intensity level of your training and how much sweat you have lost, you may wish to supplement with magnesium after your workout. As magnesium is a water-soluble mineral and easily lost through sweat, this would be a great time to replenish your magnesium levels, helping to minimise muscle aches and mild cramping, and assisting with post-exercise recovery.
Magnesium is not only important after a workout but research has shown magnesium to be beneficial pre-workout, particularly for those with inadequate magnesium intake. Research suggests that supplementation for individuals with low magnesium levels may deliver positive benefits to their muscle performance during exercise2,3. So make sure that your diet includes foods which are known for their magnesium content. Magnesium is an essential mineral which means that our bodies are unable to produce it, so we need to obtain it through our diet or via supplementation.
Luckily, there are lots of delicious foods jam-packed with magnesium. Try keeping some nuts in your gym bag or adding a banana to your protein shake for an easy magnesium boost.
Best sources of magnesium include:
Green and leafy Vegetables
Nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts
Brown rice, chickpeas
Fruit such as avocados, bananas and figs
Ensuring that you have adequate amounts of magnesium in your diet is easy. Try adding avocados to a leafy green salad or adding some chopped nuts to your next bowl of porridge. Don’t forget that dark chocolate is also very rich in magnesium, try to find a bar that contains at least 70% cocoa solids and try to limit it to a square or two and enjoy.
- Zhang Y, Pengcheng X et al, 2017, Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients doi: 10.3390/nu9090946
- Lukaski HC, 2004, Vitamin and Mineral Stats: Effects on Physical Performance. Nutrition, Vol 20, Numbers 7/8
- Nielsen FH, Lukaski HC, 2006, Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise. Magnesium Research, 19(3):180-9