Most people are aware of the importance of getting enough calcium, which remains a widespread problem. Most people don’t know there are other common micronutrient deficiencies that need to be addressed. Magnesium is one of those important micronutrients that doesn’t seem to get much attention, but plays a huge role in the body promoting health & performance.
Unfortunately the diets of all Americans are likely to be deficient and they don’t even know it. Sources estimate that nearly 70 percent of Americans get inadequate doses of magnesium every day and do not consume the daily recommended amounts of Magnesium. Studies have also shown food alone can’t meet the minimal Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) micronutrient requirements for preventing nutrient-deficiency diseases. For several years experts have suggested that the availability of magnesium in the soil has significantly decreased and it is difficult to get the amount of magnesium needed to function at an optimal level. This, in combination with diets low in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, has led to a general deficiency in the population.
Magnesium is used for more than 300 bodily functions and assists in energy production, maintains healthy bone density and aids the electrical conduction of the heart. Magnesium belongs in a category of minerals called electrolytes because they conduct electrical signals in the body. It is needed in energy metabolism, glucose utilization, protein synthesis, fatty acid synthesis and breakdown, muscle contraction, all ATPase functions, for almost all hormonal reactions, and in the maintenance of cellular ionic balance. It is found in all of the body’s cells, although it is mostly concentrated in the bones, muscles, and soft tissues. Magnesium also affects calcium’s role in homeostasis through two mechanisms.
Magnesium deficiency results in altered cardiovascular function, including electrocardiographic abnormalities, impaired carbohydrate metabolism, with insulin resistance and decreased insulin secretion, and high blood pressure. Even a mild deficiency causes sensitiveness to noise, nervousness, irritability, mental depression, confusion, twitching, trembling, apprehension, insomnia, muscle weakness and cramps in the toes, feet, legs, or fingers.
In active adults and athletes low magnesium levels can acutely contribute to early fatigue, nausea, muscle cramps & an irregular heartbeat during exercise. Magnesium as well as zinc, chromium and selenium are excreted in the sweat or as part of the process of metabolic acceleration. Heavy sweat loss can interfere with the important functions for which magnesium and other electrolytes are responsible. Also, the rate of magnesium loss is increased in conditions of high humidity and high temperature. An important consideration for athletes is the rate of magnesium loss that occurs during heavy physical activity. Heavy exercise makes you lose magnesium in the urine and scientific evidence suggests this is why long distance runners may suddenly drop dead with heart arrhythmias.
In a very tightly controlled three-month US study carried out last year, the effects of magnesium depletion on exercise performance in 10 women were observed. In the first month, the women received a magnesium-deficient diet (112mgs per day), which was supplemented with 200mgs per day of magnesium to bring the total magnesium content up to the RDA of 310mgs per day. In the second month, the supplement was withdrawn to make the diet magnesium-deficient, but in the third month it was reintroduced to replenish magnesium levels.
At the end of each month, the women were asked to cycle at increasing intensities until they reached 80% of their maximum heart rate, at which time a large number of measurements were taken, including blood tests, ECG and respiratory gas analysis.
The researchers found that, for a given workload, peak oxygen uptake, total and cumulative net oxygen utilization and heart rate all increased significantly during the period of magnesium restriction, with the amount of the increase directly related to the extent of magnesium depletion. In plain English, a magnesium deficiency reduced metabolic efficiency, increasing the oxygen consumption and heart rate required to perform work – exactly what an athlete doesn’t want!
No serious athlete or trainer can afford to overlook the benefits that magnesium brings to athletic performance and the recovery process. Research suggests that even a small shortfall in magnesium can lead to greatly reduced performance and stamina. Many athletic medical specialists believe that magnesium is the single most important mineral to sports nutrition. Not only does it help optimize an athlete’s performance, but it speeds up recovery from fatigue and injuries.
Optimal muscle contraction and relaxation is the foundation of an athlete’s performance. Proper magnesium levels are required for muscles to relax fully following a contraction. Some doctors believe that injuries to hamstring muscles can be partially avoided through intake of magnesium and stated that a shortened hamstring is a result of lack of available magnesium.
The first step is to eat more magnesium rich foods, especially beans, nuts and vegetables. The more active a person is the greater the need to make sure there is a variety of balanced micronutrient-enriched foods into their diet. The challenge is to eat large amounts of magnesium-rich foods on a consistent basis. Often this proves difficult and unrealistic, as an athlete’s requirement of magnesium intake far surpasses that of an average person. Micronutrient supplementation still may be needed to be incorporated into their wellness program as a preventative protocol for preventing these observed deficiencies.
Another important step is to have your levels checked. The residual level of magnesium in the cells is what’s important. The body does all it can to keep the blood levels normal, so if there is a body deficit, it will be found within the cells. Work with a practitioner that will check your RBC-magnesium level (the level of magnesium in red blood cells) or provide an FIA (functional intracellular analysis) for your body’s residual nutrient levels that will benchmark your cell level status to find the amount of supplements needed to achieve normal levels. Recommended intake for endurance athletes is 500 to 800 mg daily.
There is virtually no one that cannot benefit greatly from increasing daily magnesium intake. In terms of health and longevity magnesium is essential. For the professional athlete it means the difference between winning and losing, and in some cases, living and dying.
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