I’m not big into supplements. Frankly speaking, I find most of them to be a complete waste of money, especially if you’re already eating a well balanced diet.
With that said, occasionally I will stumble across something that’s worthwhile. Usually it’s a substance that’s dirt cheap and has strong scientific evidence to support its use.
Case in point: vitamin D.
Supplemental vitamin D is something I started taking several years ago and it’s had a huge impact on my health. I highly recommend guys supplement with vitamin D if they are not already doing so.
More recently, I’ve been reading about the importance of magnesium. I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled across it, but I ended up reading a fantastic book on the subject called The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean.
Magnesium is an important element involved in hundreds of processes in the body.
As someone who spends a considerable amount of time lifting weights and practicing BJJ, I’m particularly interested in its effects on athletes.
The book outlines 5 essential activities in which magnesium plays a critical role. I immediately noticed that all of these activities were relevant to athletes and bodybuilders:
- Magnesium is a cofactor assisting enzymes in catalyzing most chemical reactions in the body, including temperature regulation
- Magnesium produces and transports energy
- Magnesium is necessary for the synthesis of protein
- Magnesium helps transmit nerve signals
- Magnesium helps to relax muscles
Magnesium is also useful in the treatment of sports injuries. According to the book, pain, inflammation, muscle spasm, muscle tensions, and scarring can all be treated with magnesium.
Most of us are deficient in magnesium
There has been a gradual decline of dietary magnesium in the US. At the turn of the century people used to get as much as 500 mg of magnesium per day from their diet and now they are lucky if they get 175-225 mg per day.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, our soils have become depleted of magnesium over the past 50-60 years due to intensive agricultural practices. This means our foods don’t contain as much of the mineral as they used to.
Second, the standard American diet is abysmal. Foods that are highly refined and/or processed don’t contain much magnesium and these are the types of food that make up the average American’s diet.
According to the book, most guys are lucky if they get about 80% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium. And this doesn’t take into account that the RDA for magnesium is likely too low to begin with.
But let’s say you don’t eat like the typical American. Instead, you eat a healthy, well balanced diet that is high in protein, healthy fats, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Can you still become deficient in magnesium under these circumstances? Absolutely.
The book covers many factors that can deplete magnesium from the body including the following:
- High doses of supplemental vitamin D
- High protein diet
- Intense exercise
So if you’re training hard, taking supplemental vitamin D, and eating a high protein diet, chances are you might benefit from bumping up your magnesium levels.
How to determine you’re magnesium deficient
If you speak to most doctors they will probably try to give you a basic serum magnesium test. This is NOT an accurate test to determine your magnesium levels. A serum magnesium test only examines the amount of magnesium in your blood. Only about 1% of the total magnesium in your body is found circulating in your blood. Furthermore, magnesium must remain at an effective level in the blood to keep the heart beating properly. This means that when serum magnesium levels drop, magnesium is pulled out of bone and muscle to fill the gap.
The most accurate way to test for magnesium deficiency is through a red blood cell magnesium (RBC) test. You can order one of these tests through Direct Labs.
According to The Magnesium Miracle, the optimal level of magnesium is between 6.0 – 6.5 mg/dL. This is on the higher end of the normal range which is usually anywhere between 4.2 – 6.8 mg/dL.
You could also diagnose a magnesium deficiency anecdotally. It’s certainly not as accurate as an RBC test but it might still be helpful.
For example, do you routinely suffer from muscle cramps, muscle stiffness, and muscle twitching? Have you noticed a decrease in exercise capacity? A little extra magnesium might be in order.
The good thing about magnesium is that there is very little fear of toxicity because if you consume too much of it the body rids itself of excess through diarrhea.
This also makes absorbing enough magnesium from your supplements a challenge. Fortunately, there are ways around this as you will see below.
How to supplement with magnesium
Before choosing to supplement with magnesium it’s a good idea to try to get as much of the mineral as you can through your diet. If you are not already eating leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds, you really out to do so.
When supplementing with magnesium the book recommends using a variety of different types in order to find out which one works best for you. Personally, I like to use magnesium citrate.
I find magnesium citrate doesn’t cause much of a laxative effect. The key for me is to take it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (which is completely fine to do).
I like to supplement with 300 mg per day. My diet is actually quite good so I don’t feel the need to take an excessive amount. The additional 300 mg per day is a good amount to offset what I might be losing each day through hard training.
For those of you who have problems with ANY type of oral magnesium supplement (e.g. upset stomach, laxative effect etc.) you might want to try some magnesium oil instead which can be rubbed on the skin for transdermal absorption.
ReMag is a picometer-ionic form of magnesium. Picometer magnesium is smaller in diameter than the body’s cell mineral ion channels. Its direct and complete absorption into cells means it does not even reach the large intestine to cause diarrhea. Huge bonus for those of you who can’t deal with magnesium citrate and are worried about absorption rates.
Magnesium is an important mineral involved in hundreds of different processes in the body. Most of us are likely deficient and could benefit from supplementation. Even a solid diet is no guarantee from deficiency.
If you’re in the gym smashing weights like I beast then I highly recommend adding a little magnesium to your supplement stack.
Here’s to staying fit!