Magnesium and Athletic Performance

Magnesium and Athletic Performance

As partially published in Rude Health Magazine

Natural talent and good coaching are only part of the success of a skilled athlete - without proper nutrition, even the best athlete can only perform to a certain level.

Most athletes are familiar with the mineral magnesium, but many do not understand just how essential magnesium is for optimal performance.  Many athletes do not consume enough of this vital mineral, which can lead to reduced exercise capacity, impaired performance, and poor post-exercise muscle recovery.  In fact, Dr. David Pascal, 1983 Olympic Gold Medalist and world class athlete, recognizes the role that magnesium plays. He feels it is so important that the first and last thing he tells his sports patients everyday is:  “Take your magnesium." [1]

If you are at all skeptical of just how important magnesium is for athletic performance, consider the fact that not one of Dr. Pascal’s athletes suffered from heat exhaustion or muscle cramps during the 2010 Beijing Olympics.  And this is not the only thing that Dr. Pascal can brag about: the athletes he worked with collectively brought home twenty medals: ten gold, five silver, and five bronze.  In Dr. Pascal’s words: "Magnesium is actually the ‘stress mineral' and is needed for about 350 different chemical processes within the body. By stress mineral, I mean that the human body uses a lot of magnesium to handle physical stress. Of course, athletes are under a tremendous amount of physical, chemical and mental stress, and so magnesium is absolutely vital for them to perform at their best." [2]  (Note: current research by Dr. Carolyn Dean, M.D. now shows that magnesium is needed for approximately1,000 biochemical processes). [3]

Unfortunately, not every athlete knows the value of magnesium.  In the trials for the Beijing Olympics, a top American sprinter (not being treated by Dr. Pascal) broke a record by running the 100 meter dash in the fastest time ever run by a human being.  However, when he tried out for the 200 meter dash five days later, he fell due to a spasm in his leg, resulting in a partial muscle tear. [4]   This was detrimental to his career, as he lost valuable training time before the Beijing Olympics and was unable to win the three gold medals he was projected to take home. 

Not only do stress and physical activity use up your magnesium stores, you lose magnesium when you sweat, as it is water soluble.  Many people believe that a lack of potassium is responsible for heat stroke and muscle cramps, but this is not necessarily the case.  One of magnesium’s roles is to regulate the pump that is responsible for the sodium/potassium balance in the cells.  Without adequate magnesium, potassium will be unable to enter the cells.   This will result in an electrolyte deficiency that can cause harm to athletes, such as heat stroke and muscle cramping.  One research study on swimmers showed that magnesium supplementation allowed an 86% reduction in muscle cramps. [5]

Not only is magnesium important for electrolyte balance, it is also essential for ATP production.  The ATP molecule (adenosine tri-phosphate) is the fundamental unit of energy for all human cells.  Without sufficient magnesium, the mitochondria inside the cells would not be able to metabolize our nutrients into functional units of energy.  This is because in order for ATP to be biologically active, it must be bound to a magnesium ion, known as MgATP.   Without proper MgATP energy production, the nerves, muscles, and cells cannot function properly. [6]

In addition to electrolyte balance and ATP production, magnesium can accelerate an athlete’s recovery time. Magnesium deficiency is associated with structural damage to the cells. A recent study with 1,453 participants showed that higher serum magnesium levels correlated with better muscle integrity and function. [7]

In addition to this large study, a smaller study looked at the effects of magnesium depletion on exercise performance in ten women.  During each month, the women were given different levels of magnesium and then instructed to cycle to the point where they reached 80% of the maximum heart rate.  Different measures were taken including blood tests, ECG, and respiratory gas analysis.  Each month, the results showed the same: magnesium deficiency caused reduced metabolic efficiency, increasing the oxygen consumption and heart rate needed to perform. [8]   Any athlete knows that this is exactly what he or she wants to avoid.

As an athlete striving to perform their best, adequate magnesium levels are crucial for your performance.  Even those who watch their diet carefully often become deficient in magnesium, as we have seen 30% less magnesium in farm soil as compared to fifty years ago [9] .  Furthermore, stress, exercise, alcohol consumption, and certain medications can lead to magnesium deficiency.  While whole grains, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes all contain adequate magnesium, fruit, meat, fish, and refined foods are all poor sources of it.  In addition, food processing often leaves foods void of magnesium.  Taking these factors into consideration, it is important for athletes to supplement with magnesium to ensure you are performing at your optimum potential.

When choosing a magnesium supplement, it’s important to choose the best form of this mineral. A study done by the University of Reading has shown that magnesium citrate provides the highest bio-availability. [10]   As we know that liquids always provide higher bio-availability, it can be deduced that liquid magnesium citrate is the best absorbed in the body.  However, if you find that you don’t tolerate magnesium citrate well, magnesium bisglycinate is also a well absorbed form.  Magnesium oxide is a form to avoid, as it is the cheapest form of magnesium and multiple studies confirm that it is not absorbed well.  Alternatively, you could purchase a magnesium gel and rub it directly onto your skin, especially onto those muscles that may need the extra support.

As an athlete, it is important that you function at your top potential. Without proper magnesium intake, you will be unable to do so.  Not only will magnesium help you perform to your full ability, it will also help prevent injury which can hinder or even end your career as an athlete.  You will be pleasantly surprised at how much it helps your recovery time, your athletic ability, and your energy levels.  But don’t take our word for it: see for yourself just how much this amazing mineral can do for you!

  [1]  Author not cited. “Dr. David Pascal, Nutrition for World-Class Athletes.” Organic Connections.  Organic Connections, 2013. <>

[2]  Ibid.

[3]  Dean, Carolyn M.D. “Why I call Magnesium a Miracle.” December, 2019.

[4]  Author not cited. “Dr. David Pascal, Nutrition for World-Class Athletes.” Organic Connections.  Organic Connections, 2013. <>

[5]  Author not cited.  “Magnesium and Your Performance.” Endura Sports Nutrition. Endura, 2013. <>

[6]  Author not cited. “What is Magnesium?  How it Functions in the Body.” Ancient Minerals.  Magnetic Clay Inc, 2010. <>

[7]  “Magnesium and Your Performances.” Endura, 2013. 

[8]  Hamilton, Andrew. “Just How Important is Magnesium to Athletes?” Body Building. Body Building, 25, June, 2005. <>

[9]  Author not cited. “Vegetables Without Vitamins.”  Life Extension Magazine. March, 2001.

[10]  Walker, AF.  et al. “Mg citrate found more bioavailable than other Mg preparations in a randomized, double blind study.” University of Reading.  16, September 2003.