An Athlete's Guide to Magnesium

An Athlete's Guide to Magnesium

Magnesium is a critical nutrient, involved in over 300 metabolic reactions in the body. Unfortunately, under-consumption of magnesium in the diet is widespread in the United States, especially among athletes. Some of the most important physiological functions of magnesium include:

  • Energy production (carbohydrate and fat metabolism)

  • Muscle function

  • Building structural proteins

  • Utilization of other nutrients (vitamin D and calcium)

  • Immune function

Possible Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency

  • Fatigue and muscle weakness

  • Numbness and tingling

  • Muscle cramps

  • Mood issues

  • Frequent illness

  • Poor quality sleep

  • Abnormal heart rhythms and coronary artery spasms

Dietary Sources of Magnesium

  • Green leafy vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard)

  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, and Brazil nuts)

  • Legumes (beans, lentils, edamame)

  • Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)

  • Avocado

  • Brewer’s yeast

  • Bananas

  • Herbs (chamomile, parsley, hops, sage, fennel, dandelion, alfalfa, and cayenne)

Magnesium in Dietary Supplements

Mag Citrate.jpeg

Certain individuals will need to supplement with magnesium in order to ensure optimal magnesium status. Magnesium supplements are available in capsules, tablets, powders, and even topical preparations, but it’s important to know the form of magnesium in the product. Some of the most common forms of magnesium include: glycinate, citrate, malate, chloride, lactate, and oxide. Small studies have found that magnesium in the aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms are absorbed into the body more completely and are more bioavailable than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate.

You should consult with your healthcare provider or schedule an appointment with us before starting magnesium or other dietary supplements.

How Much Magnesium Do I Need?

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the daily recommended allowances (RDA) of magnesium are around 400mg per day for men and 310mg for women, which gradually increases with age (RDA). The RDA guidelines work fairly well for the average “healthy” person. However, there are many situations and health conditions that result in increased needs beyond the RDA:

  • Intense physical activity (endurance competitions, prolonged sweating, weight lifting)

  • Gastrointestinal issues (problems with digestion/absorption)

  • Autoimmune conditions, kidney disease, and other chronic health problems

  • Medications that deplete magnesium (antacids, antibiotics, diuretics, etc.)

  • Genetics (COMT and other genetic variants)

How Do I Know if I’m Getting Enough?

Magnesium can be assessed reliably in blood and urine in most circumstances. However, it’s not typically part of “standard bloodwork” that your primary healthcare provider may be monitoring. Furthermore, there are some nuances to interpretation of magnesium testing that may account for why some debate exists about the best testing methodology in the medical literature.

However, having interpreted countless magnesium test results over the years, I find red blood cell (RBC) magnesium (especially when correlated to other biomarkers associated with magnesium deficiency) to be one of the most valuable for athletes. RBC magnesium makes good clinical sense in the non-acute care setting, since the majority of magnesium’s functions occur within body cells.

Low RBC Magnesium.png

If you’re interested in having your RBC magnesium level checked or anything else related to your health, give us a call, email, or reach out through the contact page on our website. We would love to hear from you!

Muscle Function Depends on This Critical Process

There is a biochemical process that is performed in your body, billions of times every second of every day. It’s a natural, biochemical reaction that is critical to every muscle cell, as well as multiple other body systems. This process is called methylation, and unfortunately it’s an area of our body’s biochemistry where problems can occur if we lack the right combination of nutrients, genetics, and healthy lifestyle. However, proper methylation is something that we can assess and support, with the right clinical tools.

What is Methylation?

Methylation is a biochemical process where methyl groups (carbon and hydrogen atoms) are transferred and donated between many different molecules, which changes their structure and function. Methyl groups act like billions of switches which turn genes on or off, help regulate mood, detoxify hormones, produce energy, and promote healthy aging.(1)

Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids from the diet are needed to keep this process running smoothly. There are also genetic factors and oxidative stressors which can affect how well this pathway works.(2)

Methylation Reactions.png

Why is Methylation Important?

Methylation is needed to create DNA and RNA and regulate gene expression. It helps make creatine, which is required by skeletal muscle and is why creatine may help some athletes who have difficulty synthesizing it on their own.(3) Methylation is involved in many other processes including: fat metabolism, immune response, vascular health, cell membrane repair, neurotransmitter production, and the detoxification of toxins and hormones.

Methylation defects have been associated with many clinical conditions including, but not limited to: cancer, autism, ADHD, congenital and neural tube defects, cognitive decline, mood disorders, and cardiovascular disease.

Methylation of Amino Acids.png

Methylation Testing

Assessing methylation through specialized laboratory testing can uncover needs for targeted nutritional support such as specific amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. This goes well beyond just prescribing a methylated B-vitamin and “calling it good.” Additionally, knowing genetic predispositions can help focus supplementation even further so that methylation defects can be corrected on a long-term basis.

Specialized Methylation Testing.png

Thankfully, we don’t have to guess about your methylation status. Using testing that combines functional biomarkers with genomics, we can gain more insight than ever before about your body’s ability to perform this critical biochemical process. This is all part of my Health & Performance Optimization program at Clinical Advances for Sport. If you have interest in checking your methylation status or just improving your health overall, let us know (contact us)!


  1. Baric I, Staufner C, Augoustides-Savvopoulou P, et al. Consensus recommendations for the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of inherited methylation disorders. J Inherit Metab Dis.2017;40(1):5-20.

  2. Locasale JW. Serine, glycine and one-carbon units: cancer metabolism in full circle. Nature Rev Cancer. 2013;13(8):572.

  3. Balestrino M, Adriano E. Beyond sports: Efficacy and safety of creatine supplementation in pathological or paraphysiological conditions of brain and muscle. Med Res Rev. 2019 Apr 23.

Top 3 Overlooked Recovery Foods for Athletes

Many studies in recent years have linked antioxidant-rich foods to improvements in muscle strength, physical performance, and overall health. You may already know that antioxidants are a group of nutrients that include vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, ubiquinones, bioflavonoids, etc.  You may also know that these foods include, dark leafy greens, blueberries, cherries, grapes, and other fruits. These nutrients help to protect the body from excessive oxidative stress, a complex physiologic process in which cells of the body can be damaged. 

It’s no secret that vegetables and fruits are good for the body. However, this simple fact is too often forgotten by athletes in their endless quest to get “enough” protein. As a reminder, I’ve pulled these 3 research articles together highlighting the benefits to muscle recovery and physical performance for athletes. 

#1 Spinach

The effect of spinach supplementation on exercise-induced oxidative stress (PMID: 24921623)

The Evidence: Half-marathon runners who incorporated some fresh, raw spinach into their diet during the two weeks leading up to the event experienced an alleviating effect on biomarkers related to oxidative stress and muscle damage. This means that their recovery happened much more quickly following the event.

#2 Tart Cherries

The effects of Montmorency tart cherry concentrate supplementation on recovery following prolonged, intermittent exercise (PMID: 27455316)

The Evidence: Semi-professional soccer players experience less muscle soreness after exercise when integrating a tart cherry concentrate into their diet. Even more interesting was the fact that their muscle strength after exertion was better than the placebo group. The authors of the study reported a more favorable inflammatory response, which means a return to training can happen sooner.

#3 Grapes

Potential ergogenic activity of grape juice in runners (PMID: 26288392)

The Evidence: Runners experienced an average of 15.3% increased time-to-exhaustion with real purple grape juice. They lasted 12 minutes longer than the control group, which was given an artificial grape-flavored beverage as a placebo. The real grape group experienced an increase in total antioxidant capacity and a reduction in inflammatory markers. Less muscle and joint pain is a big benefit of keeping inflammation in check – this may explain why the athletes were able to push further.

How Will this Help Me Recover Faster and More Completely?

Intense exercise can cause excessive oxidative stress in the body, which can persist for hours-to-days following the event. When the body’s total antioxidant capacity is low, oxidative stress leads to significant cell damage – this includes damage to muscles, which prolongs recovery time. However, when the body has adequate antioxidant reserves, the damage from oxidative stress is minimized and a return to training can happen sooner.

“Yes, Protein Is Important but so Are Vegetables and Fruits”

It’s a phase many of my clients have heard over the years and now we have peer-reviewed, placebo controlled, published medical literature echoing the sentiment. Increasing the amounts of dark leafy greens, berries, and other anti-oxidant rich foods in the diet is one of the strategies I use as part the Detox phase of my clinical program (see About). If you’ve been passing over these foods in favor of extra protein, you may be missing out on your full physical potential.

Webinar on Lab Testing - Aug 2018

I’ve recently had several requests to provide a link for the recording of my recent webinar, so I’m including it below. The presentation was intended for healthcare providers, but patients have also expressed interest. In the webinar, I featured two of the comprehensive nutritional assessments that I use to assess macronutrient and micronutrient status. This type of functional testing covers 3 hexagons in my program (see About) and provides insights into metabolically weak areas of the athlete’s biochemistry. Exposing these weaknesses and turing them into strengths is the way that we maximize health and performance.

Click here to see the webinar on YouTube.

"Building a Better Athlete"

If you haven’t seen this month’s National Geographic magazine (July 2018), I encourage you to check it out. U.S. Olympic Champion, Katie Ledecky, graces the cover along with a headline of  “Building a Better Athlete.” The author of the article, Christine Brennan, did a nice job of outlining many of the pertinent milestones of the last 100 years in sports performance and interviewing a few leaders in the field of sports performance.

A couple of quotes from the article about sports performance fit perfectly with my clinical approach, which emphasizes health, nutrition, biochemistry, and physiology. For example, Alan Ashley, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief of sport performance, states that the key to breaking performance barriers is to “keep athletes healthy…if they stay healthy, everything else falls into place.” In another quote from the article, Peter Weyand, who runs the Locomotor Performance Laboratory at Southern Methodist University, mentioned, “…researchers are focusing on such key areas as physiology, nutrition...”

In my clinical experience, almost every one of my patients (athletes included) has dysfunction in at least one of six key areas (see About page for details). The goal of my clinical program is to maximize health and performance through optimized function.