Magnesium is one of the essential minerals with several benefits for your health. And yet, a lot of the population suffers from magnesium deficiency, something even more prominent in athletes, who due to intense exercise have elevated needs for magnesium.
Many athletes see magnesium as the mineral to prevent muscle cramps, but there are several benefits of magnesium you should keep in mind.
In this blog we analyze the role of magnesium in your body, answer the question whether it actually prevents muscle cramps, and discuss how to choose your magnesium supplement.
The role of magnesium in your body
Magnesium is one of the two microelements that regulate the "on" and "off" functions in your body. That means excitation and inhibition, related to neural signaling.
To understand the importance of magnesium, we must must understand neural signaling.
In simple terms, neural signaling is enabled by two essential minerals. Calcium increases excitation and the transfer of signal from one neuron to another, while magnesium inhibits it, temporarily shutting down this transfer.
This alteration of phases is constantly occurring. Both minerals function in synergy, trying to preserve the balance.
Every signal, a thought, a memory, or an order to move a muscle, represents the depolarization of one phase or the other. The magnesium and calcium phase are constantly changing in a homeostatic fashion.
A mineral imbalance, such as excessive amount of calcium, may lead to anxiety and brain fog. Furthermore, the neurons may become insensitive and require increased amounts of minerals to respond.
This process may be alleviated by supplementing magnesium, which calms down excessive neuron signaling and leads to increased wellbeing and reduced anxiety.
To sum up, magnesium is a mineral that alleviates the overload of the nervous system. Because of poor nutrition, excessive intake of calcium, fast lifestyle, too much caffeine, and increased athletic load, supplementing magnesium is a convenient and effective solution to improve performance and increase wellbeing.
Magnesium is an essential mineral for neural signaling with several benefits for your health. Should you supplement magnesium? Most likely, yes.
Does magnesium prevent muscle cramps?
Before we answer this question, we must understand what really causes muscle cramps in the first place.
When we use a muscle, the muscle gets contracted, followed by a relaxation of this muscle accompanied by the activation of the opposite muscle.
Due to excessive load, inadequate oxygen flow, and dehydration caused by electrolyte imbalance (too much calcium or too little magnesium), the muscle may stay contracted. This event is called muscle cramp.
There are several reasons why muscle cramps occur.
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance caused by sweating or excessive intake of plain water.
- Alteration of blood volume, typical for prolonged aerobic exercise, such as ultra trail events or cycling races expanding over several days.
- Exercise at high temperatures, which goes hand in hand with dehydration.
- Muscle fatigue, which triggers anaerobic metabolism and causes muscle cramps.
- Undetected health issues, such as diabetes, kidney disorders, or dystonia.
In regards to magnesium preventing muscle cramps, studies performed on athletes demonstrated that muscle cramps occurred even with increased intake of water and magnesium.
For this reason, in professional circles, magnesium was never considered a mineral that prevents muscle cramps. On the other hand, many studies came to the conclusion that the time to occurrence of muscle cramps can be almost doubled by supplementing an appropriate isotonic drink.
Why is that? The simple answer is that by preserving glycogen stores, which is enabled by the carbohydrates in the isotonic drink, you improve neural signaling and delay or prevent muscle cramps.
So, does magnesium prevent muscle cramps? While its role in neural signaling, and consequently muscle cramps, should not be neglected, research seems to consistently point out that magnesium alone will not prevent muscle cramps, while an adequate isotonic drink with carbohydrates and correct minerals to sustain optimal hydration will.
In terms of muscle cramps, magnesium alone seems to be inefficient. Instead, use a high-quality isotonic drink with carbohydrates and all the necessary minerals to sustain proper hydration.
What is the best magnesium supplement?
Athletes often buy magnesium to prevent muscle cramps, but then muscle cramps keep occurring anyway. As said, magnesium alone will rarely prevent muscle cramps.
A simple test you can do is to consume at least 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of exercise. If muscle cramps no longer appear, they were caused by low glucose levels in your blood.
We often hear the question: which magnesium has the best absorption? And the answer is: the one you consume with carbohydrates.
For this reason, during intense exercise that lasts more than 2 hours we recommend supplementing an adequate isotonic drink that contains the correct mix of minerals.
On the other hand, there are several other reasons why an athlete should intake magnesium.
- Stress reduction
- Improved neural signaling
- Normal muscle function
- Heart and nervous system health
- Fatigue reduction
- Improved focus
- Increased flexibility
We could hardly ask more from a single mineral. But you should be careful to choose the correct magnesium supplement. Magnesium chelate or magnesium citrate have the best absorption and allow you to gain the full effect of magnesium.
On the other hand, you should avoid magnesium chloride, which is often advertised as an amazing magnesium supplement, but this is far from the truth.
In case of hypercalcemia or hypomagnesemia, if confirmed by a blood count, a magnesium supplement with sufficient bioavailability might do the trick.
But if your magnesium deficiency is severe, you should consult your personal physician, who will be able to detect an electrolyte imbalance and find possible causes.
If your problem is that your intake is too low, that can be easily fixed by intaking a high-quality magnesium supplement or reducing the intake of competing minerals.
But if there are deeper underlying causes of your magnesium deficiency, a doctor can help you detect and solve those problems, which is why, especially for endurance athletes, we recommend to perform a blood count at least once a year.
The best magnesium supplements are magnesium citrate or magnesium chelate, as they offer the highest absorption of this precious mineral.