Is Magnesium The Missing Link For performance?
I am going to drill down a bit deeper and look at specific factors that enhance your performance in your training, whether you are an active competitor, weekend warrior or even if you do Martial arts as a hobby.
Being aware of what your body needs and why it needs it is essential for your overall health and to improve your training.
With this in mind I will start with what is probably the number one mineral when it comes to sports performance and that is magnesium. Involved in over 300 processes in the body, magnesium is vital for your performance. Couple that with the fact that most people are chronically deficient (even without exercising), it makes it even more important to get it on board.
The ideal amount for an adult who has an active lifestyle is 2000mg per day so you can see that this could be a major issue when trying to compete at a high level.
Magnesium is one of those minerals which is rich in a variety of foods, but is also rapidly depleted by a whole host of bodily processes, including the detoxification of certain foods by the liver, but by far the most common way of losing magnesium is by sweating.
So it is vitally important to have this mineral in rich abundance for the body to use. To get you started, here are a list of the foods rich in magnesium, with the highest sources at the top.
Magnesium Enriched Foods
- Dark leafy Greens (e.g. Spinach, Kale, Chard)
- Nuts and Seeds (e.g. Pumpkin, sesame, brazil nuts, Almonds, Cashews)
- Fish (e.g. Halibut, Mackerel, Pollock)
- Beans and Lentils (e.g. White beans, French beans, kidney beans, chick peas)
- Whole Grains (e.g. Quinoa, Millet, Buckwheat, wild rice) – Stay away from gluten grains.
- Organic Full Fat probiotic Yoghurt
- Dried Herbs and Spices
- Dark Chocolate
The foods above should be in your diet at some level every day, leafy greens are an awesome way to boost magnesium levels. By using this list as a guide you can at least start making sure that you are addressing shortfalls. However, since we are talking about training and performance, you will struggle to get in enough magnesium by food alone.
There are also numerous benefits that magnesium supplementation can give you in improving your training, performance and recovery. Many athletes and martial artists do not consume enough of this vital mineral, which can lead to reduced exercise capacity, poor post-exercise muscle recovery and impaired performance.
Now I want to look at the role magnesium plays in not only healthy physiological function but more importantly, why you, as an athlete or martial artist, need to supplement magnesium as a regular part of your nutrition program.
It is well proven that Magnesium increases physical performance in athletes. It is a vital nutrient that is involved in many important physiological processes including energy production, muscle function, muscle relaxation, bone formation, digestion, keeping our cells healthy and assisting in the proper functioning of vital organs including the heart, kidneys, adrenals and our central nervous system. All of these processes are essential for any athlete or martial artist who want to perform at a high level.
Since Magnesium is necessary for over 300 processes within the body – quite a staggering amount and more than any other mineral that our body uses. One of the things Magnesium is involved in is that it has a vital role in cellular energy production. It is needed for the production of the body’s major form of energy – ATP (adenosine triphosphate – see my article in the august issue of MAI for optimum nutrition performance to see why ATP is so important).
So a deficiency of magnesium can make you feel tired and low in energy, it can also lead to insomnia, migraines, muscle weakness, hormone imbalances, weak bones, muscle tension, irritability and anxiety.
One scientific study on magnesium found that female endurance athletes who took magnesium supplements were able to run at maximal intensity for longer, and had increased VO2 max. With that in mind, magnesium increases the energy production in your body so if you want some extra energy to help you go harder for longer, make sure you increase magnesium rich food or supplement it with your diet.
Since magnesium is involved with muscles cells, Magnesium depletion can also be associated with structural damage to muscle cells, which impairs post-exercise muscle recovery. Magnesium is crucial for maintaining muscle health, and assists in recovery after exercise.
A recent study on the use of magnesium in 1,453 adults demonstrated that higher serum (blood) magnesium levels were associated with better muscle integrity and function. This included grip strength, lower-leg muscle power, knee extension torque and ankle extension strength. These results highlight the importance of magnesium for improving muscle function and performance.
Magnesium plays a vital role in muscle contraction and muscle relaxation. If your magnesium levels are low you are more susceptible to muscle cramping, which can often be reversed with the addition of magnesium supplements.
In one research trial, swimmers taking magnesium supplements during their training and competitions found an 86% reduction in muscle cramps. The reductions occurred after only three days of supplementation.
If muscle cramps are an issue for you, adding some extra magnesium to your supplement regime is a must.
Training at a high level, it is vital that you get as much rest as possible. If you suffer from magnesium deficiency you will most likely suffer from poor sleep as your muscles struggle to relax. Magnesium stabilises the electrical activity in nervous and muscular tissues where it produces a relaxing effect. This is why I often call magnesium “the great relaxer”, as it really helps the entire nervous system to relax. Thus it is excellent for those with stress, poor sleep and anxiety or panic attacks.
As with all training, to be at your best you need to be in great shape. Which means having a diet devoid of processed foods, wheat dairy and other toxins that the liver has to deal with. When the liver is over stressed due to the toxic load, it cannot begin to strip away fat until this is addressed.
The liver uses a lot of magnesium in nutrient processing, detoxifying and energy production in the body. Without magnesium these processes would not take place and the liver would struggle to process toxins and the ability to metabolise fat would be impaired.
As we discussed the article “The Hydration Equation”, for athletes to perform at their best they need to ensure that they are well hydrated and take in extra electrolytes lost during intense exercise.
One such critical electrolyte is magnesium, with the others being potassium and sodium. It is important for you as martial artists or athletes to replace magnesium as intensive training can lead to depletion via sweat and urination.
Before you reach for an energy drink though, STOP! Most of the commercially available ones you can buy are of poor quality and any nutrients added are NOT enough anyway.
As well as proper nutrition, make sure you are adequately hydrated and immediately after training replace lost electrolytes by drinking coconut water, which contains all of the electrolytes your body requires, including magnesium, which is way better than any sports drink and is from a natural source!
Becoming deficient in magnesium, it is often difficult to restore the levels back to normal, particularly if you do not take supplements. As I have mentioned people in general and especially athletes/martial artists are magnesium deficient; therefore, supplemental magnesium is an important part of any serious athlete’s nutritional program. However, not all magnesium supplements are created equal.
The type of magnesium you choose is important, as some forms can cause gastric discomfort or diarrhoea (the last thing you want during your training!).
As with most things, the more you pay the better quality supplements you will gain. Cheap supermarket brands or brands from chemists are usually of poor quality, usually in the form of magnesium oxide, which is poorly absorbed by the body and can create a laxative effect.
When taken orally, you want to be making sure that you take it regularly in the form of Magnesium orotate, chelate, phosphate and citrate, these are better absorbed than poorer forms and is very easy to do.
If you take magnesium capsules, look to be taking 400mg per day, the best time to take it is in the evening if you find that your sleep is suffering.
To get the most from magnesium supplementation however, you want to be using transdermal magnesium oil, which you apply to the skin. This has the advantage of bypassing the digestion process and so up to 80% is absorbed over 20-30% in capsule form. In general the best time to apply this is after you take a shower or bath in the evening. However, if you suffer from muscle cramping then apply the oil in that area as and when needed. If not apply over a large surface area such as your back or chest for better absorption. An alternative to the spray is the Drift off formula made by lean greens if you would like to take capsules instead of the spray.
If you struggle with eating vegetables and are not keen on the magnesium rich foods, I would also recommend you look at a greens drink. These drinks contain massive amounts of minerals including magnesium and are derived from natural sources such as kale, broccoli and spinach. I personally take lean greens as it is great tasting and I have seen great improvements in performance when taking it (www.lean-greens.co.uk )
So if you are serious about your training, want to increase your performance, then make sure you have all the bases covered when it comes to this essential mineral.
The following guide will help you get the most out of your training…
Guide for Maximum Magnesium levels:
- Avoid eating gluten (bread, pasta, sauces from super markets etc)
- Eat as much raw foods containing magnesium as you can to avoid the cooking process destroying it.
- Minimise Alcohol consumption
- Look to eat the freshest, organic fruits and vegetables. Pesticides and herbicides deplete magnesium as it is used in conjunction with the liver to rid the body of these toxins
- This is a no brainer for general health but it bears repeating. Avoid refined sugars (i.e. artificial sweeteners, corn syrup etc)
- If you use salt, use Himalayan salt or sea salt
- Drink clean water. Tap water contains hundreds of contaminants such as herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals and in some cases fluoride, which all deplete magnesium. So buy a water filter of buy bottled mineral water.
- Keep away from Refined and processed foods
- Remove caffeine from your diet. As a stimulant it invokes cortisol, our stress hormone.
- Look at proper stress management, reduce the levels of stress in your life.
- Introduce as many magnesium rich foods in your diet as possible.
- Supplement magnesium in the form of a spray, which you apply to the skin for maximum absorption or capsules
- Look at taking a greens drink, which contain loads of nutrients including high levels of magnesium. My recommendation is Lean greens, which you can buy here lean-greens.co.uk
By taking these steps you will go a long way in improving your training performances.
To your strength and Health
(Reproduced from my Article in Martial Arts Illustrated )