Written by Katherine Barrington, Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach
The human body requires a variety of different vitamins and minerals for complete and balanced nutrition, but some nutrients are more important than others. Magnesium, for example, plays a role in more than 300 different biochemical reactions in the body – this makes it the most abundant mineral in the body as well. Not only is magnesium important for general health, but it provides some specific benefits for exercise, particularly strenuous or extended periods of exercise such as training for and running a marathon. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of magnesium for runners and to receive tips for increasing your intake.
Why is Magnesium Important?
As you have already learned, magnesium plays a role in more than 300 reactions within the body which makes it one of the most important minerals for human nutrition. Magnesium is required for the optimal function of hundreds of different enzymes and it supports bone and heart health. A magnesium deficiency can lead to some very serious symptoms including the following:
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Liver and kidney damage
- Additional nutritional deficiencies
- Restless leg syndrome
- Mood swings and behavioral problems
- Insomnia or sleep disorders
- Osteoporosis and bone damage
- Recurrent bacterial or fungal infections
- Dental disease
- Muscle cramps and weakness
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium varies depending on factors such as age and gender. For adults between the ages of 19 and 30, RDA for women is 310 mg and RDA for men is 400 mg. For adults over 31 years old, RDA for women is 320 mg and RDA for men is 420 mg.
The Benefits of Magnesium for Runners
Magnesium is required by virtually every cell in the human body and it is essential for healthy and normal function. Included in the list of 300+ biochemical reactions that magnesium helps to regulate are functions such as muscle contraction, nerve function, blood pressure regulation, cardiac activity, hormonal balance, bone health, and the synthesis of proteins. Perhaps most important, however, is the role that magnesium plays in energy metabolism through the activation of ATPases, the enzymes needed to generate ATP (energy) for your body to utilize.
During exercise, the body metabolizes ATP for energy. As ATP is broken down, the energy is released to sustain muscle contractions. When you are exercising strenuously or for an extended period of time, the turnover rate for ATP metabolism is very high – your body is burning energy at a higher rate which means that it needs to produce energy at a higher rate as well. Magnesium deficiencies can severely limit your body’s ability to produce and metabolize ATP which can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, muscle twitches, lethargy, and muscle cramps. Running and magnesium deficiency can contribute to even more serious symptoms such as reduced bone mineral density, anemia, and irregular heart rhythm. By keeping their magnesium intake within the recommended range, athletes such as marathon runners can avoid these unpleasant and performance-limiting side effects.
As you have already learned, the general RDA for magnesium in healthy adults is somewhere between 300 and 350 mg for women and between 400 and 450 mg for men, depending on the age. Recent research suggests that endurance athletes like marathon runners can benefit from as much as 500 to 800 mg of magnesium per day. To meet your daily recommended allowance for magnesium as a marathon runner, you can choose a combination of strategies such as taking a daily magnesium supplement and eating more magnesium-rich foods. Nutrients in their natural form (such as nutrients found in food sources) are more biologically valuable for the human body than synthetic supplements, though supplements can help if you are significantly magnesium-deficient.
Tips for Increasing Your Magnesium Intake
If you are a runner, you need to pay particular attention to your magnesium intake. You’ve already learned about the general recommendations for daily intake based on age and gender but, as a marathon runner, you might need to increase your daily intake a little more – there are several ways to go about doing this. The simplest option is to start taking a magnesium supplement – here are the most popular types of magnesium supplements:
- Magnesium Chelate
- Magnesium Citrate
- Magnesium Chloride Oil
- Magnesium Glycinate
- Magnesium Threonate
As an alternative to magnesium supplements, or as an addition option to boost your intake, there are also some magnesium-rich foods you can add to your diet. Here is a list of foods rich in magnesium:
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Brown rice
- Cow’s milk
- Kidney beans
- Peanut butter
- Sesame seeds
- Shredded wheat
- Soy milk
- Sunflower seeds
As the most abundant mineral in your body, magnesium is extremely important for healthy function but particularly important for people who regularly engage in strenuous exercise. If you are a runner and you want to maximize your performance, consider taking steps to increase your magnesium intake by following some of the tips provided above.
Why Do Marathon Runners Need More Magnesium?
~ Written by Katherine Barrington, Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach