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Is Magnesium Good For Athletes?

Greenletes / Sports Nutrition / Is Magnesium Good For Athletes?

There are certain nutrients that play a vital role in overall health, and magnesium is at the top of that list. Not only does your body need magnesium for more than 300 essential biochemical reactions, like muscle contractions, but most of us don’t meet our recommended magnesium intake from dietary sources alone.

Magnesium supplementation is associated with positive health outcomes that can keep athletes strong and healthy. For instance, magnesium supports relaxation to fight off pre-race jitters, and research also suggests that supplementing with magnesium can help the body take in glucose for fuel and clear lactate from the blood. 

If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should add a magnesium supplement to your routine, it’s time to learn more about this essential nutrient and why I decided to supplement with magnesium while training for my last marathon. 

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral found in foods, such as leafy greens, beans and nuts. It plays a role in nerve, heart and muscle function, supports the immune system and contributes to bone strength. In addition, magnesium is necessary for the production of energy and protein. 

It’s also an important electrolyte for runners. Research suggests that marathon runners who consumed adequate amounts of unsaturated fat, iron, potassium, and magnesium may have better race-day performance.

As one of the minerals lost in sweat, magnesium also plays a crucial role in hydration. 

A deficiency in magnesium may increase inflammation in the body, which can have negative long term health consequences.

The benefits of magnesium

Not only is magnesium crucial to normal bodily function, but there is also an abundance of research on the benefits of magnesium.

Supports a healthy heart

Magnesium is a major factor in helping relax the smooth muscles within the blood vessels, which promotes a healthy cardiovascular system. Magnesium also supports circulating levels of:

  • norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter involved in heart rate and blood pressure
  • serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood and  happiness
  • blood vessel dilation, which is related to healthy blood pressure levels

Contributes to bone health

Magnesium positively influences the bone mineral matrix and bone repair and rebuilding.Scientific literature documents the need for a wide range of minerals, including calcium and magnesium, for maintaining strong, healthy bones.

Helps with relaxation

A good night’s rest is vital for everyone, and the CDC estimates that 35% of adults do not get enough sleep (7+ hours/night). Research on the elderly suggests that magnesium supplements may positively affect sleep quality. 

How much magnesium do you need?

The daily recommendations for magnesium are 320 milligrams for women and 420 milligrams for men. Unfortunately, magnesium is mostly stored in the bones and tissue, making it difficult to assess magnesium levels with a blood test. The best way to determine your magnesium status is to observe your dietary magnesium intake from the foods you eat. 

Foods like leafy greens, almonds, beans, avocados, prunes, edamame and nuts are rich in magnesium, but research has found that about half of Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diet. 

Should runners supplement with magnesium?

When I was training for the Chicago Marathon in the summer of 2019, I started to feel a little run down about 2 months into my training. Although I tried to stay consistent with my healthy well-balanced diet, I felt like my energy levels kept sinking.

I was surprised to find some evidence showcasing that strenuous exercise may increase magnesium losses in sweat and urine by 10-20%. Although the research on magnesium depletion and running is not totally conclusive, one can assume that high mileage may lead to some magnesium depletion.

There is evidence to suggest that magnesium supplementation or increased dietary intake of magnesium may have beneficial effects on exercise performance in magnesium-deficient individuals. 

With the knowledge of this research and in an attempt to combat my fatigue, I added a magnesium supplement to my daily routine. I was hoping that it would lead to better sleep and also help my body utilize glucose for fuel during my long runs. 

Marathon training takes its toll on the body, and (for me) causes sleep disturbances. Even though I was really tired, I found it hard to sleep through the night due to leg discomfort. Not to mention that I also felt sluggish during many of my runs.

After using the magnesium supplement for about a month, I started to notice an uptick in my energy levels, as well as better sleep patterns. I truly believe that the combination of diligent training, good nutrition and a magnesium supplement helped me feel strong through my marathon training and the race day. 

Although magnesium supplements helped me and they have many benefits, they may not be for everyone, especially those on medication. Before taking any type of supplement, check with a physician, pharmacist, or Registered Dietitian.

10 foods that are a good sources of Magnesium 

1. Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds make a great snack or addition to salads or grain bowls. They can also be used to make homemade dressings and butters! A 1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds serves up 74mg of magnesium (42% of your daily value (DV)). 

To add some flavor and spice to your pumpkin seeds, try roasting them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and paprika at 350F for 10 minutes. Or incorporate them into this quick and easy Pumpkin Pie granola recipe

2. Cooked spinach 

The benefit of eating cooked spinach is that you get more bang for your buck. Since it shrinks down, you’re able to eat a lot more spinach when it’s cooked as compared to raw. Plus, it’s a great addition to soups, like this vegetable barley  soup, or it can stand alone as a side dish sauteed with olive oil, garlic and lemon. 

Not to mention that the  magnesium in cooked spinach is more easily absorbed by the body. In 1 cup of cooked spinach, there is 156mg of magnesium. 

3. Beet Greens 

You may think of beneficial nitrates when you think of beets. But in fact, the leafy tops of the beets also contain beneficial nutrients, like magnesium.

A ½ cup of cooked beet greens has 13mg of magnesium. If you’re racking your brain for ways as to how you can incorporate more beet greens into your diet, use them in place of where you would normally use kale or spinach.  

4. Cashew Butter 

Cashew butter is a great option if you have a peanut allergy, or if you just want to change up your nut butter routine. Cashew butter is delicious in smoothies, on toast and in baked goods. 

I even eat it straight out of the jar sometimes! But be sure to choose cashew butters that are low in oil, salt and added sugar. In 2 tablespoons of cashew butter, there is 66mg of magnesium, or 16% of the DV. 

5. Chia seeds 

Chia seeds have become an incredibly trendy ingredient in the past couple of years and with good reason. Not only are chia seeds rich in fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but they are also a great source of magnesium. 

In 1oz of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons), there is 111mg of magnesium. I love to use chia seeds for my morning chia pudding, and to make homemade blueberry chia jam

6. Almonds 

In a single serving of almonds (about 23 almonds or 1 ounce), you will get nearly 20% of the DV for magnesium. Almonds make a great stand alone snack, but you can also incorporate them into your morning smoothie, add them to a trail mix, or incorporate them into salads. 

7. Chickpeas 

Not only are chickpeas a great source of plant-based protein, but they double up as a rich source of magnesium, with 35mg per ½ cup cooked chickpeas. Chickpeas are super versatile, and they work well in everything from homemade hummus and falafels, stews and curries, and crunchy roasted chickpeas snacks.

8. Edamame 

The edamame soybean is no stranger to póke bowls and sushi nights. But if you think those are the only ways to use the plant-based protein, think again! 

Buy a bag of frozen edamame and microwave it for a quick protein packed snack. Or add it to a hearty vegan sushi quinoa bowl for a quick and simple lunch. Edamame is a good source of magnesium with 60mg in 1 cup of cooked.

9. Yogurt 

For those of you who enjoy including dairy in your diet, greek yogurt is a good way to boost your daily magnesium intake. In 1 cup of yogurt, there is 42mg of magnesium (10% of the DV). 

Lots of people associate yogurt with breakfast, but there are  so many other ways in which you can use it. If you’re looking for creative ways to use greek yogurt, try it as the base for a dressing or sauce, make frozen yogurt bark or use it as a substitute for sour cream. 

10. Dark Chocolate 

Good news for all you chocolate lovers—one ounce of 70% dark chocolate has 15% of the DV for magnesium (65mg in about 1 square of chocolate). I love using dark chocolate chips in my chocolate almond bites and as a topping on healthy pancakes.

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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