Your body needs magnesium for sleep, energy, stress management, mood regulation, brain health, strong bones, healthy blood sugar, inflammation, and more. Yet few people realize that magnesium is also a key mineral for fitness. Whether you’re a dedicated athlete or you exercise purely for fitness, magnesium can make all the difference in your performance and endurance.

Do you get that achy feeling the morning after a good workout? While this can be satisfying because you know you’ve pushed yourself you could also be feeling some delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) particularly if you can’t walk or move properly.

DOMS is believed to be a result of micro-tears to muscle fibres. These cause an increase in blood flow and inflammation to the area, which makes the area more responsive to movement by stimulating the pain receptors within the muscle tissue, making you stiff and sore in the following days.

Magnesium reduces inflammation and thus can downgrade post-exercise DOMS pain. A 2021 study on the effects of magnesium supplementation on muscle soreness and performance found that magnesium supplementation (350 mg/day for 10 days) significantly reduced muscle soreness at 24, 36, and 48 hours.

Lactic acid, a normal by-product of muscle metabolism, can also cause you to “feel the burn” after exercise. But magnesium neutralizes lactic acid. It has been shown to reduce lactic acid levels and exercise-induced pain.

Exercise is a form of stress—albeit a healthy form—and as such, exercise speeds up our magnesium burn rate. The effort involved in muscle contraction, respiration, and energy production places increased demand on our magnesium stores.

Even without sweat, we excrete magnesium daily. Add a good workout, and you lose magnesium through your pores (endurance athletes sweat 1- 1.5 l/hour). You also don’t need to cut back on exercise to get your magnesium in balance. Statistically, most people don’t eat enough dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Yet, even if you do, those foods deliver less magnesium than whole foods did 100 years ago because of the leaching of soils through industrial agriculture. Some great magnesium-rich foods to add to your diet are dark chocolate, avocados, and tofu.

You can also easily replace your magnesium with supplements. “Picking a high quality, easily absorbed magnesium supplement is one of the fastest ways to boost magnesium levels and alleviate symptoms of deficiency,” says Linda Bolton, top Canadian health influencer and founder, Natural Calm Canada.

It’s important to note that caffeine, sugar, and sodium in sports and electrolyte replacement drinks, protein bars, shakes with lots of calcium, and sports gels can all deplete your magnesium reserves, so choose your workout fuel wisely.

Fortunately, if you correct a magnesium deficiency, your body will become more efficient at producing energy, and you might not need these performance enhancers.

There have been many studies on magnesium and performance in recent years. In a tightly controlled, three-month study in 2002, the effects of magnesium depletion on exercise performance in 10 women were observed. The study established that when magnesium was deficient, metabolic efficiency was reduced as heart rate and oxygen intake increased. Low magnesium made the body work much harder to perform the same task.

In 2006 the same authors—Nielsen and Lukaski—published an update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise and concluded that: “magnesium supplementation or increased dietary intake of magnesium will have beneficial effects on exercise performance in magnesium-deficient individuals.”

Other studies contrasting athletes under magnesium supplementation with control groups have found that: “magnesium supplementation positively influences performance (Cinar, Nizamlioglu, Mogulkoc, & Baltaci, 2007)” and that it “improved alactic anaerobic metabolism” even in athletes who were not magnesium deficient (Setaro et al., 2014).

How much magnesium do you need for fitness and exercise performance? No two people have the same magnesium requirements. Body size, age, lifestyle, stress, and exercise are factors. “Research has shown that even by conservative estimates, working out increases your body’s magnesium demands by up to 20 per cent,” adds Bolton. That means, if your RDA for magnesium is 400 mg/day before exercise, you may need closer to 500 mg if you exercise often.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t meeting our magnesium requirements through diet alone. The best way to determine whether you are getting enough magnesium and to find your intake sweet spot is by looking at symptoms. Common symptoms of low magnesium include tension, cramps, pain (headaches and muscle pain), restlessness, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and even constipation. So, it is important to address your low magnesium to prevent fatigue, lethargy, weakness, nausea, and other health risks linked to magnesium deficiency.

Whether you’re a casual exercise person, a fitness buff, or a serious athlete, make sure you’re getting enough magnesium as part of your performance nutrition and recovery plan. 

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