Take magnesium for better athletic performance and get the most out of vitamin D and zinc at the same time. New research shows that magnesium enables optimal athletic performance because the body is better able to use energy and perform muscular contractions.
A recent study performed on elite handball players in the journal Magnesium Research found that supplementing with magnesium will increase red blood cell production, and it increases the availability of both zinc and magnesium to support energy production, muscle contractions, and removal of waste products produced by intense exercise.
Magnesium is redistributed throughout the body when you start exercising, which is one reason that studies trying to identify the optimal daily intake of magnesium for different populations have produced inconclusive results. What is clear is that athletes have greater need for magnesium, and 500 mg a day is a reasonable dose. Your needs be higher if you are a heavy sweater or experience symptoms of low magnesium such as muscle spasms, arrhythmias, or unexplained fatigue or weakness when training.
In addition to magnesium’s role in red blood cell production, it is also taken up by fat cells as fat is used for fuel. If you are deficient in magnesium, muscle contraction rate will be impaired because the calcium pump that transports calcium ions to the sarcoplasm of the muscle will be reduced. When this happens, you will feel fatigue, and reduced power and strength.
Zinc is also involved in optimal red blood cell production and it allows for the release of anabolic and fat burning hormones during exercise. It plays an interrelated role with magnesium and calcium, as seen by an interesting study that found that when intra-abdominal pressure is increased—a common occurrence when strength training—brain blood levels of magnesium, calcium and zinc are altered significantly. This study didn’t test optimal levels of these minerals; it only highlighted the close relationship they play physiologically.
In addition, magnesium activates cellular enzyme activity, allowing the body to convert vitamin D into its active form to help bone building. It also leads to the release of the hormone calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure and draw calcium out of the blood and soft tissues to be deposited in the bones.
With all of these physiological uses for magnesium, it’s no wonder that this mineral is one of the most important for athletes. For best results with magnesium, vitamin D, and zinc take 500 mg/day of magnesium from a highly absorbable source such as magnesium glycinate. Researchers suggest that for women, a healthy calcium to magnesium dose is 1:1, whereas men probably do not need to get supplemental calcium since there is some evidence that it can lead to cardiovascular problems.
Also, ensure your vitamin D level is optimal by getting a vitamin D blood test (you want a level above 40 ng/ml).
To test your zinc level, do a zinc taste test that works because we know that taste and smell are dependent on there being adequate zinc in the body. To do this test, get zinc sulfate and put about 1-2 teaspoons in a cup and sip it, holding it in the mouth. If it tastes just like water, you are very zinc deficient. If you taste something slightly metallic, you are moderately zinc deficient. If it tastes disgusting—strongly metallic and unpleasant—your levels are probably adequate. This test is subject to individual taste perception and it is not 100 percent valid, but it is a good place to start.
Nielsen, F., Lukaski, H., Update on the Relationship Between Magnesium and Exercise. Magnesium Research. 2006. 19(3), 180-189.
Molina-Lopez, J., Molina, J., et al. Association Between Erythrocyte Concentrations of Magnesium and Zinc in High-Performance Handball Players After Dietary Magnesium Supplementation. Magnesium Research. 2012. Published Ahead of Print.