Magnesium: The Magnificent Mineral Superstar
By: Rehan Jalali, C.S.N.
We all know the importance of essential minerals but there is one mineral that is truly special! It’s involved in so many bodily processes and has been well researched. Magnesium can support energy creation, genetic health, protein synthesis, nervous system regulation, exercise performance, decrease depression, healthy blood sugar levels, pain management, heart health, improve PMS symptoms, bone health, better sleep, and can even help with anxiety! Mastermind Victor Conte, the man behind SNAC has been way ahead of the curve using magnesium supplements with athletes for decades. This led to the creation of the legendary supplement ZMA which has a highly absorbable form of Magnesium giving you the biggest bang for your hard-earned buck! The magnesium in ZMA is found in a chelated form bound to aspartate which makes it highly bioavailable. In fact, the magnesium and zinc in ZMA are double bonded together to the aspartate molecules which can also (chemically speaking) enhance absorption. Absorption and usage of minerals are key factors in receiving their many benefits. Magnesium is a true health and fitness game changer!
What’s So Special About Magnesium?
Magnesium in the human body ranks fourth in overall abundance, but intracellularly (within cells) it is second only to potassium. Magnesium absorption mainly occurs in the small intestine. This mineral is involved in over 600 reactions in the body including glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, creatine phosphate formation, nucleic acid synthesis, amino acid activation, cardiac and smooth muscle contractability, cyclic AMP formation, and most importantly for athletes, protein synthesis. Every cell in the body contains magnesium and needs it to function properly. But according to research, about 50% of the population does not get enough daily magnesium in their diets. This is where efficacious magnesium supplementation can save the day!
Magnesium and Energy
ATP (adenosine triphosphate or energy) is always present as a magnesium: ATP complex. Magnesium basically provides stability to ATP. Magnesium binds to phosphate groups in ATP, thus making a complex that aids in the transfer of ATP phosphate. Since working muscles generally contain more ADP (adenosine diphosphate), allowing ATP to release a phosphate group is important to those who exercise routinely. Magnesium is literally the foundation of energy!
What role does magnesium play in protein synthesis?
Magnesium plays an important role in protein biosynthesis which is certainly applicable to athletes. This is critical to building lean muscle—the goal of most fitness buffs and athletes! It is necessary for the activation of amino acids and the attachment of mRNA to the ribosome. This process helps "make" proteins. In other words, protein synthesis depends on optimal magnesium concentrations. It is hypothesized that low magnesium levels may negatively affect protein metabolism and may result in limited strength gains in a structured workout regimen. Nobody wants to be weaker so we must get enough magnesium daily! It is important to note that increasing dietary protein intake may increase magnesium requirements because high protein intake may decrease magnesium retention.
Does Magnesium help with muscle cramps and exercise recovery?
Magnesium has also been implicated in the prevention of muscle cramps and muscle spasms. In a clinical study, 500 mg of magnesium relieved muscle spasms (within a few days) in an adult female tennis player who was complaining about having muscle spasms associated with prolonged outdoor exercise. This may be due to the fact that mineral losses through sweat and urine are increased during prolonged exercise. Specifically, sweat losses of magnesium may increase during exercise. Increased loss of magnesium from the body have been seen both during and after exercise. A shift in magnesium from the plasma into the erythrocytes (red blood cells) was found. Basically, the more anaerobic the exercise (i.e. glycolytic), the greater the movement of magnesium from the plasma into the erythrocytes. This is why athletes may have a greater magnesium requirement and why supplementation can enhance recovery. Magnesium deficiency can not only impair physical work capacity but also impair optimal immune function. In fact, one study actually discussed how magnesium supplementation may be a supportive treatment in Covid-19 cases due to its positive effects on respiratory function.
Magnesium and Athletes
Researchers have looked at the effects of dietary magnesium supplements on strength development. The results of several studies including a review article published in the journal Nutrients concluded that oral magnesium supplementation produced significantly greater results in muscle strength and power output than control groups. Endurance athletes may become magnesium deficient because of increased magnesium losses in sweat. Increased energy expenditure may also cause an increase in magnesium requirements. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve cellular metabolism in competitive athletes. Another clinical trial which studied the effects of magnesium supplementation (360 mg/day) for 4 weeks in male competitive rowers showed a decrease in serum lactate concentration and oxygen consumption when compared to rowers receiving a placebo. In other words, the results of this study suggested that magnesium supplementation may have a beneficial effect on energy metabolism and work efficiency. Other research studies show that serum magnesium levels may be reduced in response to strength training. Also, it has also been noted in studies that maximal contraction of the quadriceps is positively correlated to serum magnesium status. A study of four-week-long magnesium supplementation showed that it has marked effects in protecting the DNA from oxidative damage. We definitely don’t want damaged DNA! Interestingly, this may be one of the mechanisms of action that causes magnesium to have anti-aging effects! One other potential benefit to athletes is magnesium’s positive effects on bone health/bone mineral density and reducing fracture risk. No athlete wants to break bones! And finally, research has shown that magnesium supplementation prevents a reduction in thyroid hormone activity in athletes. In other words, it supports a healthy metabolism! This would also be beneficial in the fat loss process!
Magnesium and Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important factors in a solid health and fitness routine! In fact, sleep is so critical because sleep deprivation can cause many negative effects such as memory issues/loss, mood changes and depression, lowered immune function, diabetes risk, high blood pressure, increased food intake/weight gain, heart issues risk, and muscle loss. I know most of us can’t really function well without a good night’s sleep! According to a recent meta-analysis on magnesium and insomnia, the researchers concluded that magnesium can help enhance the depth and quality of sleep. Another study showed that magnesium intake can reduce hostility levels—which is interesting since sleep deprivation can cause irritability. One of the reasons ZMA is recommended to be taken before bedtime is to enhance the quality of sleep and maximize recovery!
Can Magnesium be toxic?
Magnesium toxicity is highly unlikely because normal kidneys can remove magnesium extremely rapidly. Toxicity is more likely to occur in individuals who have renal problems. One possible effect of excess magnesium intake is diarrhea. But if you stick with magnesium aspartate or magnesium bisglycinate, you shouldn’t have any issues.
Food sources of Magnesium
You can certainly get magnesium from foods but to get supraphysiological doses that have functional body benefits, supplements is the way to go! Here are some magnesium rich foods: Chia seeds, spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, salmon, peanut butter, black beans, and brown rice.
What form of magnesium is best?
There are numerous forms of magnesium but there are a few you should look for to maximize the overall benefits. You want to make sure that you are getting a form with the highest absorption rate possible. It generally takes 3 capsules to deliver 450 mg of elemental magnesium if true chelation occurs during manufacturing.
Magnesium Citrate - Magnesium citrate is a form of magnesium that’s bound with citric acid. It is one of the most bioavailable forms of magnesium and is easily absorbed in the digestive tract. It has about a 30% absorption rate.
Magnesium oxide - Magnesium oxide is a salt that combines magnesium and oxygen. This form has the poorest absorption rate and is very cheap. It only has a measly 2-4% absorption rate.
Magnesium glycinate – This form of magnesium is combined with the amino acid Glycine which makes it pretty well absorbed and tolerated. It has about a 24% absorption rate.
Magnesium Aspartate – This chelated version of magnesium has the highest bioavailability and water solubility—to the tune of 40%! This is the superior form of magnesium found in ZMA.
How much magnesium should you take?
This varies in individuals but a daily dose of 450-1000 mg daily in athletes and fitness enthusiasts may be beneficial. Dietary fiber impairs magnesium absorption to a small extent so magnesium should not be consumed with any fiber source. A great time to take magnesium is an hour or so before bedtime.
I think the message is clear: Magnesium is an essential nutrient for everyone, especially athletes! So whether you’re an elite athlete like the ones that train at the SNAC facility or a fitness buff just attempting to look and feel better, magnesium could be the supplement that can take your results to the next level! I’ve been taking ZMA for 20+ years and I know it’s helped me in many ways by improving my body and health!