Supplementing for Success: The Key Mineral You're Deficient In

Supplementing for Success: The Key Mineral You're Deficient In
Magnesium is crucial for your health on so many levels. Learn all the major foods that contain the mineral & why you should begin supplementing it!

While magnesium is best known as a relaxing ingredient in the popular nighttime supplement ZMA, the benefits of magnesium are extremely impressive and extend far beyond sleep alone.

In this article you will learn everything about this key mineral and how regular supplementation can advance your health and even your physique, one step further.

Background to Magnesium and Magnesium Deficiency

In the body, magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral and the second most abundant electrolyte. Magnesium is a key cofactor for over 300 metabolic reactions in the body.

Some of the primary roles of magnesium in the body include1,2,3:

  • protein synthesis,
  • muscle and nerve function,
  • blood glucose control,
  • blood pressure regulation,
  • energy production,
  • DNA synthesis,
  • muscle contraction.

With such a wide range of functions, magnesium deficiency is always going to be of serious concern. The United States daily recommended intake is 420 mg for men and 310 mg for women4.

Related: ZMA Supplements - Do They Improve Sleep & Test Levels?

At present, research estimates that at least 60% of Americans do not consume the recommended daily amount of magnesium in their diets. Remember, that the deficiency level is far below the optimal range for an athlete, or someone who wants to optimize their health and physique5.

The big issue around magnesium intake is limited access to natural sources. Although magnesium is a rather abundant mineral, there is no major food source that provides a high quality amount of magnesium. The foods highest in magnesium include unrefined (whole) grains, spinach, nuts, legumes, and potatoes. However, you would need to eat unrealistic amounts to get a high magnesium intake6.

Food Mg Per Serving Percent DV*
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce 80 20
Spinach, boiled, 1/2 cup 78 20
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce 74 19
Peanuts, oil roasted, 1/4 cup 63 16
Cereal, shredded wheat, 2 large biscuits 61 15
Soymilk, plain or vanilla, 1 cup 61 15
Black beans, cooked, 1/2 cup 60 15
Edamame, shelled, cooked, 1/2 cup 50 13
Peanut Butter, smooth, 2 tablespoons 49 12
Bread, whole wheat, 2 slices 46 12
Avocado, cubed, 1 cup 44 11
Potato, baked with skin, 3.5 ounces 43 11
Rice, brown, cooked, 1/2 cup 42 11
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces 42 11
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of DV magnesium 40 10
Oatmeal, instant, 1 packet 36 9
Kidney beans, canned, 1/2 cup 35 9
Banana, 1 medium 32 8
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces 26 7
Milk, 1 cup 24-27 6-7
Halibut, cooked, 3 ounces 24 6
Raisins, 1/2 cup 23 6
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces 22 6
Beef, ground, 90% lean, pan broiled, 3 ounces 20 5
Broccoli, chopped and cooked, 1/2 cup 12 3

Source: Gebhardt, S., Lemar, L., Haytowitz, D., Pehrsson, P., Nickle, M., Showell, B., ... & Holden, J. M. (2008). USDA national nutrient database for standard reference, release 21.

Along with issues around obtaining magnesium naturally, there are a large number of factors that can reduce our rate of magnesium storage and absorption. Most notable of them are7:

  • Excess alcohol, diuretics, coffee, tea, salt, phosphoric acid (sodas), calcium, potassium and sugar.
  • Intense stress.
  • Drugs and some supplements (foscarnet, aminoglycosides, amphotericin B, cyclosporine, azathioprine, cisplatin, citrated blood, excess vitamin D).
  • Several health conditions (vomiting, diarrhea, renal transplantation, etc.).
  • Insufficient water intake.

The most common way to determine magnesium deficiency is by measuring total serum concentrations. A healthy range is between 0.7 and 1.05 mM8. However, most of the body's magnesium is stored in bone, muscle and soft tissues, with only 1% of the body’s magnesium content stored in the serum9.

Therefore, unless severe magnesium deficiency is present, measuring serum magnesium concentrations is unlikely to be an effective way of diagnosing deficiency10. This means, it is possible that a large majority of the population is actually magnesium deficient, but not to the extent that it would be identified when measuring serum concentrations.

Severe signs of minor of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. If this deficiency continues and progresses, other issues such as abnormal heart rhythms, tingling, numbness, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures and coronary spasms can occur2,4.

Side effects of Magnesium Deficit

Importantly, most people with low magnesium stores may not show any severe symptoms but, as shown above, unless you are supplementing with magnesium, there is a very good chance you have below optimum levels limiting your health and performance.

Over the long term, magnesium deficiency has been associated with a number of chronic diseases, including migraines, Alzheimer’s diseases, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes12,13,14.

Whether you are trying to improve health, reduce disease risk, improve performance or your physique, magnesium supplementation is clearly important.

The Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation

Along with avoiding all the negatives discussed above, additional supplementation of magnesium has been shown to be effective in treating a number of health conditions. Some of the most relevant benefits are presented below.


Magnesium is widely connected to brain chemistry, in particular its impact on neurotransmitters. An imbalance on neurotransmitters has been cited as one cause of depression, therefore magnesium deficiency has been implicated in the development of depression15,16,17,18,19.

To support this, a review and meta-analysis have found an association between low levels of magnesium and higher incidences of depression16,17. Oral magnesium supplementation may prevent depression and has been used as an alternative therapy15,16.

Magnesium treatment was found to improve symptoms of depression in patients who had chronic fatigue syndrome and in women with premenstrual syndrome20, 21.

Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Disease

Hypertension (elevated blood pressure) is a major risk factor for heart disease and strokes, which affects a large percentage of the population. Current studies have found that one benefit of regular magnesium supplementation is in its unique ability to lower blood pressure22.

Related: The Perimeter Diet - Cheap & Easy Way To a Flexible, Healthy Diet

A meta-analysis (review of the research) of over 1,000 adults found that magnesium supplementation for 3–24 weeks, decreased systolic blood pressure by 3–4 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2–3 mmHg. Although they seem small, these changes can be very beneficial and significant in the long term, when combined with a healthy diet, lifestyle and exercise regime22.

Higher magnesium intakes might also reduce the risk of stroke, which is closely linked to high blood pressure. In another meta-analysis, which reviewed 7 studies containing a total of 241,378 participants, found that an additional 100 mg/day magnesium pre day was associated with an 8% decreased risk of stroke, especially ischemic (heart)-based strokes23.

The final confirmation highlighted in research was revealed by 2 studies. In these, researchers found that individuals with the highest serum levels and magnesium intakes had reduced risks of sudden cardiac (heart) death and ischemic heart disease. In other words, the higher your magnesium levels are (within reason of course), the lower your risk of cardiac-based death or disease will be24,25.

Exercise Performance

Like other minerals and electrolytes, magnesium is well known for its role in exercise performance and weight training. Firstly, and most importantly, magnesium plays a key role in muscular contractions. In other words it helps your muscles shorten and lengthen to produce movement and force.

Male performing seated dumbbell curls

Interestingly, the demand for magnesium during exercise may increase by up to 10–20%, highlighting the additional importance of magnesium for athletes or those who exercise on a regular basis.26

In controlled research, Magnesium supplementation has been shown to provide the following benefits27,28,29,30,31:

  • Enhance performance,
  • Reduce pain and discomfort caused by the buildup of lactic acid,
  • Reduces negative changes in stress hormones,
  • Aid in recovery,
  • Reduce high insulin levels.

Performance enhancement have also been seen in team sports such as volleyball players - who experienced improvements in jumping and arm movements as well as triathletes who experienced faster running, cycling and swimming times28,31.

Type II Diabetes

Along with cardiovascular disease, other research has shown diets with lower amounts of magnesium are associated with a significantly higher risk of diabetes, possibly because of the significant role of magnesium in blood sugar (glucose) metabolism34,35.

Some of the most clear and impressive research is found in two meta analyses, which found magnesium supplementation decreased the risk of diabetes by 15% and 23%34,36.

Related: Optimizing Insulin Sensitivity for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss

In controlled trials, patients with diabetes were placed on 600 mg elemental magnesium and saw improved blood sugar control40. In another study providing 300 mg/day elemental magnesium for 16 weeks showed significant reductions in fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c - a key marker of long-term metabolism and blood sugar control41.

For anyone trying to improve their physique, the use of magnesium could help metabolize the carbohydrates consumed and maintain healthy insulin function. As we known, insulin sensitivity is key for health, disease risk and body composition.

When functioning correctly, it’s going to help you shuttle nutrients into the muscle for recovery, growth and fuel. However, when dysfunctional, you may well store more fat and increase disease risk.


We all know the importance of sleep for health, fat loss and performance. Nearly 50% of older adults have insomnia, with difficulty in getting to sleep, early awakening, or feeling unrefreshed on waking43. Even one single bad night’s sleep can cause impaired performance, blood sugar metabolism and over the long term, make it harder for to gain muscle or lose fat.

Man Yawning at the Gym

Magnesium or ZMA is well known as a nighttime cure for insomnia and a general sleep aid used by many.

This is because Magnesium is a natural component of N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) and friend of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors that seem to play a critical role in sleep regulation43. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that the brain requires to switch off; without it, we remain tense, our thoughts race and we lie in bed staring at the ceiling.

Only a few studies have been completed using magnesium supplementation in relation to sleep. The early results suggest that magnesium supplementation may increase sleep time and sleep efficiency while improving markers of sleep quality-as judged by standardized sleep assessments44,45.

With sleep as a main focus, magnesium supplementation may be enhanced and work together with other vitamins and minerals, such as designed formulations of a combination of Zinc, Magnesium, and Vitamin B6, aspartate, and/or Melatonin to further enhance your sleep and recovery46,47.

How To Supplement with Magnesium

Typical dosages for magnesium supplementation are in the range of 200-400mg; there are, however, many forms available on the market which may alter your dosing strategy48.

In general, magnesium citrate is a good choice for supplementation. Although any form of magnesium can be used to attenuate a magnesium deficiency, except magnesium L-threonate, since it contains less elemental magnesium per dose.

Additionally, supplementing with magnesium oxide or chloride may result in gastrointestinal side-effects, like diarrhea and bloating, because they have lower absorption rates.  Finally, you should take your magnesium supplement with a source of food for improved absorption.

Start today by adding around 400mg of Magnesium Citrate to your night time supplement regime or with the last meal / snack of the day. A combination of slow digesting protein, such as a casein shake, is a sure fire way to help your muscles grow throughout the night while improving sleep, relaxation and recovery!

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