Is Magnesium Good For Athletes?

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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.


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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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