Calcium. Iron. Zinc. Copper. Selenium. Chromium. Boron. Vanadium. Phosphates. Magnesium. These minerals are all extremely important when it comes to athletic performance and basic health, but magnesium is one that tends to fall under the radar.
Fun fact: On average, over 50% of the U.S. population is deficient in magnesium; 51.8% of Hawaii’s population has a deficiency as of 2016. A human body contains approximately 25g of magnesium with 50-60% of the mineral in bones and the rest in soft tissue. Magnesium is essential for energy metabolism, muscle function, oxygen uptake, and electrolyte balance as well as helping enzymes in other metabolic processes.
Before we get into more specifics, let’s go over some general questions.
What is a mineral? A mineral is an inorganic substance naturally found in foods. According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, “the human body needs about twenty different minerals to function properly.” It is safe to say that minerals play an essential role in many metabolic and physiological processes throughout the human body.
How does this relate to exercise? As you know, exercise puts a certain amount of stress on the body, which accelerates most of these processes. Therefore, minerals are needed for the body to function at its optimal level. Let’s take high intensity interval training (HIIT), for example. High intensity interval training enhances performance because it increases oxidative capacity (a measure of how your muscles utilize oxygen) as well as substrate availability in skeletal muscles. HIIT demands a high level of energy and heavily relies on the mitochondria (the “powerhouse” organelle in a cell) to make and match that energy. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, how do you increase your oxidative capacity exactly? There are two ways to do this: (1) By increasing the total number of mitochondria within a cell, and (2) Increasing the efficiency of existing mitochondria. To increase the total number of mitochondria, the existing mitochondria needs to make copies of itself and magnesium is needed for this process to take place. The other way requires your mitochondria to repair itself from the stress damage caused by the high level of exercise. Again, magnesium is needed for the repair process. Therefore, if you are deficient in magnesium (no matter how much or how hard you work), you won’t be able to make more mitochondria, OR repair your existing mitochondria (increasing the stress of exercise), AND your performance will be compromised.
Studies have shown that strenuous exercise may increase urinary and sweat losses. Being in a hot and humid climate, like Hawaii, athletes may be at an even higher risk for losing these minerals. To add more emphasis on the importance of magnesium, athletes involved in sports requiring weight control are especially vulnerable to inadequate magnesium. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states, “Based on dietary surveys and recent human experiments, a magnesium intake less than 260 mg/day for male and 220 mg/day for female athletes may result in a magnesium-deficient status.” To make sure you have an adequate level of magnesium, eat a balanced diet incorporating foods high in magnesium. Rich sources of magnesium include legumes, dark leafy greens, almonds/other nuts, and whole grains. Here’s a complete list for additional sources of magnesium. With that said, do what you do to boost those mitochondria!