Magnesium and its superpowers in muscle recovery
I often cite the benefits of magnesium for muscles and joints to clients, especially those competing in events and or training intensely who need all the recovery they can muster, in addition to foam rolling, massage ball trigger pointing, seeing us for sports massage and regular stretching (plus de stressing mentally!!). So, I thought I’d write a blog breaking down the benefits and regular questions I get asked on the best way to take it.
Overall, magnesium is a mineral that serves many crucial functions in the human body such as:
regulating blood pressure
maintaining heart health
protein synthesis – important for muscle repair!
healthy bone formation
blood sugar control
regulating sleep cycles
So you can see, it’s really important for overall health.
Why is magnesium often mentioned for Muscle recovery?
If you are training for a sport or activity or exercising a lot you will be depleting your body of essential minerals and nutrients, such as Magnesium. Therefore, you will need to supplement these vitamins and minerals to give your body back these crucial nutrients allowing your muscles, nervous system and other systems to recover.
Here are some way Magnesium can help with recovery:
Assistance with muscle cramping
Although research studies effects on muscle cramping have been mixed, a study has shown participants who received 300mg of daily magnesium for 6 weeks had less muscle cramps than placebo group. Similarly, a study on pregnant women showed the same effect on leg cramping.
So, whether the results are psychosomatic, placebo, or supported (further scientific research is needed), taking magnesium daily has been shown to decrease symptoms of muscle cramps. It acts as a calcium blocker, helping muscles relax after contracting.
Aids with sleeping (which helps with overall recovery)
As magnesium can aid with muscle relaxation and have positive effects on the nervous system, it can help people relax and thus improve sleep quality. Animal studies have shown it can help regulate production of melatonin, which guides the sleep-wake cycle.
Can boost exercise performance
With less cramping, regulation of muscle contractions, better recovery and sleep – magnesium has shown in some studies to boost overall exercise performance. There have been a few studies including one of triathlon athletes who supplemented with magnesium for 4 weeks and experienced faster running cycling and swimming times, complemented with lower insulin and stress levels.
What can happen if I lack magnesium in my body?
Weakness in muscles
Muscle pain in neck/ shoulders
How can I take magnesium?
Magnesium can be taking orally through foods or supplements as well as through the skins through oils or baths.
While there is a plethora of supplements on the market adorning the shelves of pharmacies and supermarkets – magnesium can be found naturally in below food:
nuts such as almonds and cashews
peanuts – great for fans of peanut butter!
wheat cereal / bread
Spinach, kale and green leafy vegetables
Vegetables eg. Broccoli
Coconut water – a natural electrolyte drink, without the sugar that sports drinks and things like endura have in them.
Dark chocolate – good news for chocolate fiends!
Overall, food that is high in fibre such as nuts, leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains are your best bet magnesium sources.
Extra-dermally – via the skin
While there are no reliable scientific case studies touting the recommendation of topically applied magnesium sprays, oils or baths – some clients especially athletes have reported better recovery from these including floatation tanks with dead sea salts (magnesium chloride).
Magnesium / Epsom salts baths
A lot of people don’t realise that Epsom salts are made of Magnesium. They are actually made of Magnesium sulphate. The benefits of Epsom salts baths come from the chemical structure breaking down into magnesium and sulphate, which is argued to be absorbed through the skin to help muscle and joint pain. You could also argue that the warm bath alone can help by relaxing the muscles and the mind.
How much do I add to the bath?
Usually 2 cups is enough for an average bath, but you can add more for your preference provided the water can dissolve it.
A heat to dissolve the Epsom salts but also be comfortable for your preference, just check it as you fill it up and before you get in so you don’t burn yourself.
Does it matter where I get the Epsom salts?
Not really. Depends how much you want to spend. Some fancy ones have essential oils in them such as lavender which can also help with relaxation. But standard Epsom salts are fine. You can usually get them from any good chemist, grocery or wholefoods store, online or some clinics.
Which magnesium is best for bathing in?
You can also get Magnesium chloride (or flakes – like those of the dead sea) which is best for absorption compared to Epsom salts which break down into magnesium and sulfate. However they may not be as readily available as Epsom salts.
How long should I bathe for?
15-30 minutes is recommended, at very least 12 minutes for the time poor amongst us! However 20 minutes is probably best for your muscles and brain to relax!
When is best to take magnesium?
Magnesium baths are best before bed so you can relax (or at least not working after it!), for supplements it depends on your objectives, if it is to aid sleep, then 1-2 hours prior to sleep, if its to help with headaches/migraines, then at the first signs of those. Otherwise, the Mayo clinic advises consumption alongside meals. 
Float tanks may be another way to get Magnesium into your body. Float tanks are sensory deprivation tanks that you get into and are enclosed. There is little to no sound, it is completely dark and you are literally floating, so you feel completely relaxed.
The core benefit of float tanks for musculoskeletal recovery is the incredible concentration of Epsom salts in there (350 kg usually) which allows you to float. That’s enough to rival the buoyancy of the dead sea and give you a sting if you have a cut you didn’t cover up!
The vast volume of Epsom salts means its like an Epsom salt bath multiplied by a million (ok I haven’t done my maths, but you get what I mean) which aims to aid muscle and joint stiffness, fatigue, pain and tension. In addition to that it’s very relaxing and meditative, so if you are feeling stressed, have neck and jaw pain or tension headaches or just let go mentally and physically float tanks could be of benefit.
What are the types of Magnesium supplements and which is the best one for your needs?
Magnesium citrate is a magnesium citric-acid complex that is widely available and versatile. It has better bioavailability (absorbs better) than magnesium oxide, and this popular magnesium supplement is widely recommended by doctors and health professionals.
Magnesium Oxide and Hydroxide
Magnesium oxide and magnesium hydroxide are similar in structure and function and are both common ingredients in over the counter digestive tonics. Both magnesium hydroxide and magnesium oxide can have a mild laxative effect.
These forms of magnesium generally cost less than other types of magnesium but have lower bioavailability. As a result, magnesium oxide and magnesium hydroxide supplements may contain as much as 60% more magnesium than other types of magnesium supplements to help make up for the lower bioavailability.
As a general rule, loose stools from magnesium supplementation are a sign that your body isn’t fully absorbing the magnesium or that you’re taking too much magnesium at once. If you want to avoid potential laxative effects of magnesium, it may help to divide your intake into 2 or more smaller doses taken at different times of the day.
Magnesium chloride is also a popular type of magnesium, but it usually isn’t taken internally. Magnesium chloride is commonly found in seawater and is believed to have high bioavailability. Magnesium chloride is available in flakes that can be added to bathwater or a foot soak, as well as in magnesium oil. This is a great option for people who have trouble taking magnesium orally, or for those who simply prefer to get their magnesium in topical form.
Magnesium oils are gaining popularity as a convenient way to supplement magnesium intake. Quality magnesium oils are made with magnesium chloride and water, creating a super-saturated brine. This non-greasy mineral brine soaks easily into skin without leaving an unpleasant residue. Magnesium oil is typically available in a spray bottle, so you can simply spritz it on after a bath or shower. As a bonus, it helps moisturize your skin!
You’ve probably heard of this type of magnesium before, but by a different name. If you’ve heard of Epsom salts —that’s magnesium sulphate! It’s very similar in appearance and usage to magnesium chloride. Simply dissolve a cup or two of Epsom salt in a warm bath and soak.
Bioavailability is lower with magnesium sulphate than with magnesium chloride. But that just means more bath time, right? Magnesium sulphate also provides sulphur, which may help soothe tired muscles. That makes Epsom salt popular among athletes looking to pamper sore or tired muscles from exercising.
Magnesium carbonate is a naturally-occurring form of magnesium. In nature, it occurs as dolomite or magnesite and is ground into a fine powder for use in supplements. Because of its fine texture when ground, along with its superior mixability and solubility in water, magnesium carbonate is often used in calming magnesium powder drinks that are perfect for helping you unwind at the end of a long day. Most foods will also contain Magnesium carbonate.
Chelated mineral supplements, including magnesium chelates, are minerals that are bound to amino acid proteins to help make them easier for your body to absorb. There are many different types of magnesium chelates featuring various amino acids that provide additional benefits.
Magnesium amino acid chelates include:
Magnesium Glycinate – Magnesium bound with glycine, provides optimum bioavailability
Magnesium Lysinate – Magnesium bound with lysine, helps pamper skin with amino acids
Magnesium Orotate – Magnesium bound with orotic acid, supports heart health
Magnesium Taurate – Magnesium bound with taurine, supports heart health while promoting calmness
Magnesium Aspartate – Magnesium bound with aspartic acid, helps fight fatigue and promotes cellular energy
Magnesium L-Threonate – Magnesium bound with threonic acid, promotes mental sharpness and cognitive health
Magnesium Malate – Magnesium bound with malic acid, supports energy production
Chelated magnesium supplements may cost a little more because of the complex processes required to make them. However, since the body is very good at absorbing amino acids, magnesium chelates have higher bioavailability, making magnesium chelates a great option for boosting your body’s magnesium levels.
As you can see there are many types and brands of magnesium supplements on the market and it can be confusing as to which one to buy. However, it is important to consider the absorption rate in the blood stream for your needs. Make sure to check the label to see what type of magnesium it contains.
The table below summarises the core differences:
Like most things, you get what you pay for. The cheaper Magnesium supplements are going to have less absorption and may cause laxative effects. The more expensive supplements like the chelates will have more bioavailability but will be more expensive.
It can be better to buy practitioner grade supplements from a pharmacy or naturopath as these will generally have more bioavailable Magnesium in them. These will be more expensive though.
How much should I take?
The ideal level of magnesium depends on age, gender and for women, whether pregnant or not.
Table Source: Berkeiser, K. (2018) Healthline, Magnesium dosage: How much should you take per day?, 6 July
According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, healthy adult men should generally consume 400 - 420 milligrams (mg) of magnesium daily.
Healthy adult women should consume 310 - 320 mg daily. Pregnant women require a higher dose than women who aren’t pregnant, which are increased to 350–360 mg per day. Magnesium is a recommended supplement to take during pregnancy, however the MOST you should ingest is 350 mg daily. Pregnancy multivitamin supplements will usually contain this, so make sure if you are taking extra magnesium to not take too much.
Is there such thing as too much magnesium?
The short answer - yes! I had an overly gung-ho training friend who overdosed on his magnesium supplements and was shaking uncontrollably. Technically speaking an overdose on magnesium is called hypermagnesemia, which symptoms can include:
Diarrhoea – excessive does may have a laxative effect.
Hypertension in heart
In worse case scenarios of overdose – a cumulative affect of too much magnesium in the body can result in serious side effects including an irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, confusion, slowed breathing, coma, and even death ( but you’d have to take a lot)!
If in doubt ask your friendly pharmacist, naturopath, dietician or doctor for advice.
So there you have it, if you are training like the beast you are, are getting cramps, are pregnant or are stressed out and want to improve your sleep, taking Magnesium or eating more foods that contain Magnesium may be just what you need.
It can be a good idea to speak to your health professional about your needs and how much to take. Having a blood test to determine whether you are low in any vitamins and minerals is also important.
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Rayman, R. (2018) What Does Magnesium do for your body, Healthline, 9 July
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Sheldon, L. (2017) Muscle pain and fatigue when taking magnesium, LiveStrong, 14 Aug
Spritzler, F. (2018) 10 evidence based health benefits of magnesium, 3 Sep
Swaminathan, R. (2003) Magnesium Metabolism and its Disorders, Clinical Biochemistry Review, 24(2), 47-66, May
WebMD Vitamins and supplements, Magnesium
Types of magnesium