Magnesium for Athletes: Better Performance and Better Sleep


When it comes to diet, a lot of attention goes towards calories, carbs, fats and protein. That's great because those are the building blocks needed to build well balanced diet. However what many of us don’t realize is that our veggies are no longer serving us as well as they used to nutritionally thanks to the depletion of our soil. magnesium

I'm not going to get too nerdy about the science here...if you want that, start Googling! I will tell you that Magnesium is involved in many processes (over 300!) that affect muscle function, including oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte balance. This role makes it vital to athletic performance, especially in endurance athletes. According to Dr. Mark Sircus, there is evidence that even marginal magnesium deficiency greatly impairs exercise performance and increases the negative consequences of strenuous exercise. Studies show that strenuous exercise increases urinary and sweat losses which may increase magnesium requirements by 10-20%. A magnesium intake less than 260 mg/day for male and 220 mg/day for female athletes can result in a magnesium-deficient status. Recent surveys also indicate that a significant number of individuals do not consume adequate magnesium and which will likely result in a deficient status.

Magnesium deficiency decreases metabolic efficiency, increases oxygen consumption, and increases the heart rate required to perform work. None of these things are desirable when it comes to athletic performance (or everyday life for that matter).

One study surveyed 210 people for body composition, magnesium intake, inflammatory status and blood pressure. 90% of the subjects were low in magnesium which showed positive correlation with higher body fat and larger waist circumference (remember, correlation does not equal causation). When they were supplemented with magnesium, their body fat began to decrease. Another study involving male athletes supplemented with 390 mg of magnesium per day for 25 days resulted in an increased peak oxygen uptake and total work output during work capacity tests.

How much magnesium do I need? 

A person needs 2.5mg to 4.5mg of magnesium per pound of body weight before accounting for loss factors (i.e. athletes).

Ex: A 150 pound pound person would need about 375 mg to 670 mg daily. 

It's also important to note that magnesium needs increase after age 30, especially for women, due to bone loss and athletes may need up to almost 7mg of magnesium per pound of body weight (that's a max of 1,050 mg for a 150 pound person).

There is no benefit to taking too much magnesium, so the best way to approach this is to make sure you getting at least the minimum amount and you'll be ok. It's also important to consult with your healthcare provider before starting a magnesium supplement! 

Why is it so hard to get magnesium from food?

  • Refined oils in packaged foods remove magnesium
  • Refined grains/sugars remove 80-97% of magnesium
  • Soil depletion prevents our food from being as nutritious as it used to be
  • Fertilizers diminish mineral absorption of magnesium
  • Drinking lots of water causes your body to filter out more magnesium in your kidneys

Food sources of magnesium:

The following are some food sources of magnesium.

magnesium foods


Signs of deficiency:

A study from 2006 showed that over half of adults were getting less than 50% of the recommended amount of magnesium. As athletes we are pushing our bodies harder making it even more important to stay on top of our nutrient needs.

Anxiety, Sadness: A lack of magnesium can cause your sympathetic nervous system to be overactive, resulting in excess cortisol and a racing mind.

Sleep issues: Magnesium has a calming effect, it helps many people sleep better. Another study showed specifically that a lack of magnesium results in increased brain activity at night which results in frequent waking.

Headaches/Tinnitus/Migraines/ADHD/Focus Issues: So, pretty much everything in your head that helps you focus and not come out on the other side with a massive headache requires magnesium to function smoothly!

Muscle Cramps/Abdominal pain: Magnesium is required for proper muscle function (remember that your stomach is also a muscle). Frequent cramps and abdominal pain can be signs of deficiency, which is why many sports electrolyte drinks include magnesium.

Impaired Exercise Performance: A 2006 study showed that even a slight magnesium deficiency impairs performance, which is amplified by sweat loss and increases requirements by 10-20%. This is caused by an increase in the amount of oxygen needed to produce energy (ATP). It may also reduce the buildup of lactic acid and even the perception of fatigue!

Fat loss: There is significant research now to show that adequate magnesium intake can help with fat loss. If it helps you sleep, reduces cortisol, and allows you to perform better...of course it can help with fat loss!

Options for supplementation:

Remember when it comes to supplements, more is not better. Find one that works for you and check with a doctor if you have any questions. While I am a healthcare professional, I am not YOUR healthcare professional and therefore do not know what other conditions you may have that would impact recommendations for supplementation. Also, PLEASE always look for a high quality supplement!

Martha Rosenstein