Most overlooked supplement MAGNESIUM by IFBB Figure Pro Sarah Sweeney

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Ask the average strength athlete to list the supplements they can’t live or lift without, and the list will probably stop at protein powder and creatine. Folks with a higher budget might add fish oil, branch chain amino acids, beta alanine, zinc, and other useful pills and powders that can improve performance in and out of the gym. Generally speaking, magnesium rarely appears under essential supplements for strength athletes.

That’s bad news, since most Americans are deficient in magnesium – it’s actually the second most common deficiency in developed countries after Vitamin D – and it’s one of the most important nutrients for strength athletes in particular.

What’s the Big Deal?

It might be helpful to think of magnesium as the relaxation nutrient: it improves sleep quality, stress levels, blood pressure, and it even relaxes the muscles within the digestive tract. (That means it helps you poop, which is why too much of the stuff can cause diarrhea.)

The side effects, so to speak, of magnesium insufficiency are similar to just experiencing stress. It’s likely that people don’t realize they have low magnesium simply because they think they’re stressed out. The most common theory as to why is that magnesium serves as a ‘placeholder’ in the NMDA receptors in our nerves, which cause excitement and stimulation. If magnesium is low, then there’s more passive stimulation of the NMDA receptor. NMDA receptors play an important role in brain health and the function of neurons, as well as overall nervous system functionality.

Low magnesium, then, can cause a lot of the problems associated with high stress, namely sleep problems and high blood pressure. But an adequate intake, in addition to better recovery and a link with higher testosterone levels, has another important benefit for athletes: it helps to relax muscles and reduce cramping.

Most folks are deficient in magnesium because its main dietary sources are nuts and leafy greens, on which the standard American diet is woefully low. Supplementing isn’t necessary if you’re hitting the RDI of 400 milligrams through food, but a daily supplement of 200 milligrams is a good idea for most lifters, to help the twenty-three hours between workouts, but not the workouts themselves. This supplement is going to work during your recovery periods, ultimately leading to improved overall health and training.

Looking for more food sources of magnesium?

  • 1 ounce raw cacao nibs and/or 1 ounce unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 medium avocado
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds
  • 1 ounce cashews, almonds or Brazil nuts
  • 1/2 fillet of wild caught salmon or mackeral
  • 2 cups winter squash

Why Are There So Many Kinds of Magnesium?!

Your average multivitamin probably comes up short in supplying magnesium, so if you want more in your diet, you’re going to want to find a dedicated supplement – but that’s where it gets really confusing.

Magnesium supplements don’t just vary wildly in price; they vary in what kind of magnesium they offer.  There’s magnesium oxide, citrate, glycinate, gluconate, aspartate, threonate, orotate – and those are just the ones we’ve heard of. Is there a “best” form for your body, especially if you’re a lifter?

Well, there are three basic categories of magnesium: oxide, threonate, and everything else.

Magnesium oxide is the cheapest, it works, but it’s also the most likely to cause intestinal problems and be eliminated from the intestines before being absorbed. (You can look at this as “discount diarrhea.”)

Then there’s threonate, which is preferred by some well-known coaches like Charles Poliquin. It’s argued to be the best absorbed, but it’s the most expensive.

I generally recommend the third, “everything else” category, with aspartate and citrate being perhaps the best (and equal) picks.

These forms are in the happy medium of having less intestinal problems and better absorption than oxide, while coming at only a relatively mild, or nonexistent, price increase. These two forms of magnesium are the most popular since it’s well absorbed and doesn’t result in diarrhoea unless too much of a dose is taken.

The Takeaway

Vitamin deficiencies are rare, but minerals are too often left by the wayside. The good news is that unlike a lot of important supplements for athletes (we’re looking at you, fish oil), magnesium is inexpensive, plus it has tremendous potential to not only improve your performance, but your sleep quality and stress levels as well – which will improve just about everything else.

One of my favorite supplements for magnesium, as well as improved overall sleep and recovery is ProjectAD’s Bulldoze. This not only includes your needed supplementary intake of magnesium in a quality form (aspartate) but is also coupled with another (often deficient) mineral, zinc and its vitamin friend B6. Taking these at night will help ensure that your intake of magnesium is adequate, and your nighttime recovery is optimal.  

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