Last week we talked about magnesium and health. This week we answer the next logical question: Can magnesium improve exercise performance?
What is magnesium?
As a reminder, magnesium is an essential mineral present mainly in bone and other tissues in the body.
Magnesium and exercise
As seen in the previous article, magnesium is involved in many functions in the body, including energy metabolism, bone development, muscle contraction and relaxation. Magnesium can bind to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the energy currency in the body (1). It can also bind enzymes that act on RNA and DNA (2).
In addition, magnesium is involved in the balance of other essential elements in the body such as minerals (e.g. calcium) and hormones (e.g. vitamin D).
Physical activity is taxing on the body, and therefore is logical that we need higher levels of magnesium than usual during exercise (1, 3).
The amount of magnesium in the plasma has an inverse correlation to the intensity of exercise. In other words, intense exercise depletes circulating magnesium. In some cases, magnesium supplementation can help maintain adequate levels (3).
Can magnesium improve exercise performance?
Yes and no. In other words, there is evidence for and against as shown by the examples below (1, 3).
- Association between magnesium intake and strength performance (maximal isometric trunk flexion, rotation, hand grip, jumping performance) in male athletes (1)
- Association between serum magnesium level and muscle performance (grip strength, leg power, knee extension torque and ankle extension strength) in elderly Italians (1, 2)
- Attenuation of strength reduction due to change in intracellular water in elite judo athletes (1)
- Improvement of aerobic and resistance exercise performance (1)
- Improvement in quadriceps torque in untrained young adults (1)
- Improvement in countermovement jump in elite volleyball athletes (3)
- Improvement in speed/power (gait speed and chair stand time) but no improvement in strength (isometric knee extension, handgrip strength) in elderly women (1)
- No improvement on marathon performance nor muscle recovery in marathon runners with adequate magnesium levels (1)
- No effect on aerobic capacity, neuromuscular function or exercise haematological parameters in athletes with low-normal magnesium levels (3)
- Reduction in inflammation markers and exercise-induced DNA damage in amateur rugby union players (3)
Summary and recommendations
Magnesium is an essential mineral for many body functions, several of which are important for exercise performance. However, current evidence does not support the use of magnesium as a performance-enhancing supplement. The lack of consensus in the scientific literature may be due to study design, magnesium status of participants, reliability of magnesium status testing, supplementation protocols, etc.
If you are an athlete, your safest bet is to ensure adequate intake based on the recommended daily intake for your gender and age, allowing for an extra buffer during intense training and competition. As a reminder, magnesium can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, cheese, meat, seafood and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.
If you have low level of magnesium or require supplements due to physical demands, supplements in organic form are better absorbed than those in inorganic form. Refer to my article magnesium and health for more details.
- Zhang Y, Xun P, Wang R, Mao L, He K. Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients. 2017;9(9).
- Dominguez LJ, Barbagallo M, Lauretani F, Bandinelli S, Bos A, Corsi AM, et al. Magnesium and muscle performance in older persons: the InCHIANTI study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84(2):419-26.
- Heffernan SM, Horner K, De Vito G, Conway GE. The Role of Mineral and Trace Element Supplementation in Exercise and Athletic Performance: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(3).
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