When talking about the mineral magnesium, the answer is most likely to be “no”. Magnesium is an extremely important mineral that is involved in over 300 reactions in the body. However, deficiency has been found in over 70% of the population. It is often very difficult to test for since only 1% of magnesium is found in the blood. Most is found in the bones (60%) and in muscles (26%).
Why is magnesium important to athletes?
Magnesium is often depleted in those that participate in a lot of exercise. The reason for this is that sweating causes a loss of magnesium. Athletes that participate in sports that require weight control, such as wrestling and gymnastics, are even more prone to magnesium deficiency.
An increase in dietary magnesium has been shown to have a beneficial effect on exercise performance in those that are deficient.
Magnesium is involved in numerous processes that affect muscle function such as oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte production. Magnesium also helps maintain bone health and has been found to be help ward off osteoporosis and fractures in later life.
How do you know you are deficient?
There are many signs of low magnesium status that a nutritional therapist will look for in a consultation. However the most common symptoms are excess anxiety or stress; muscle twitches or cramping; inability to sleep or insomnia; irritability; cold extremities or constipation.
As well as sweating, magnesium can often be further depleted by excess caffeine and alcohol consumption or excess sugar – 28 molecules of magnesium are needed to metabolise a single glucose molecule! Fizzy drinks and high levels of stress will also cause a magnesium deficiency.
How can you top up your magnesium?
The best dietary sources of magnesium are dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. Kelp and other seaweeds are also good sources, but less commonly eaten in the UK. You can buy seaweed powders, which I sometimes sprinkle on my salads and taste delicious.
Another way to increase your magnesium levels is to have an Epsom Salt bath. This is a fantastic way to relax after exercise.
You can buy large sacks of Epsom Salt and I add about 500g to a warm bath and sit in it for at least 20 minutes. This is especially great for children who do lots of exercise and might not be so keen on eating their green vegetables! It not only relaxes their muscles, but also helps them sleep.
Making sure your vitamin D levels are adequate is also essential as this increases your absorption of magnesium. To ensure vitamin D levels are topped up make sure you are eating sardines, eggs and getting outside for at least an hour a day.
If a client is severely magnesium depleted or highly stressed, I might get them to take a magnesium supplement as well as topping up with food sources.
Can you take too much magnesium?
As with most things moderation is key. Doses of less than 350mg per day however are generally considered safe. Excess magnesium can cause diarrhoea or an irregular heartbeat so stop any supplements if you notice these signs. If you are taking any medication then you will need to consult your doctor or a Registered Nutritional Therapist before using a supplement.
Katharine Bright is a Registered Nutritional Therapist with a clinic in Sevenoaks. She is co-founder of The Health Boost (www.thehealthboost.co.uk) – a website dedicated to providing a family friendly solution to healthy eating. For day-to-day inspiration and new recipes follow them on Facebook and Instagram.