“Yeah, well. It’s only a matter of time before everybody’s taking it. Magnesium is the new vitamin D.“
This is what one of the most respected NHL performance coaches told me when magnesium supplementation come up in our conversation. “It should be talked about the way we talk about vitamin D because it’s EXTREMELY important.” Yes, he put extremely in all caps. When top performance coaches put often unnecessary adverbs like extremely in all caps, it captures my attention.
It didn’t take much research for me to understand why the top trainers insist on players at the highest levels of athletics to take it.
Broadly, the research is clear that magnesium improves sleep, enhances performance, and even lowers high blood pressure (1, 2, 3) (on top of many other heart-health benefits because of its vital role along with calcium for healthy cardiac movement). In fact, a magnesium deficiency has been linked to higher chances of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality (4).
I don’t know about you, but a magnesium deficiency isn’t exactly how I imagine my death playing out. This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, if we weren’t all deficient. But that’s where the vitamin D analogy continues to grow, because, like vitamin D, the vast majority of us have a magnesium deficiency.
One study found that 68% of adults don’t ingest enough Mg daily (5). But, this may be an underestimate. Magnesium deficiency often goes undiagnosed because serum Mg (what’s used in tests) doesn’t reflect intracellular Mg — the amount of Mg that actually gets into cells (6). Other estimates place it around 80%. We need magnesium, and unless you’re pounding down almonds and leafy greens, there’s a high chance you’re deficient.
And, even if you’re not deficient, that’s an entirely different discussion about whether you’re hitting the optimal amount. If your goal is to thrive in the gym, feel better than ever, and perform like an elite athlete, then you should make sure you’re hitting the optimal dose of magnesium. While the obvious solution would be to look into a magnesium supplement, as a principle I first look to whether the problem can be easily solved with dietary interventions.
Well, of course, you can. The magnesium recommended daily allowance for adults stands around 400 milligrams for men and 320 milligrams for women. But, RDA recommendations are notoriously conservative, and researchers have seen positive effects with doses of up to 2,500 mg (7). It also varies from person to person. People who workout and sweat often, for example, may have 10%-20% higher requirements (8). Hence, why it’s especially important for active people and athletes. While 2,500 is an extreme example, based on the research we have available I can say with confidence that if you’re training regularly, you should consume at least 500 milligrams, though likely more and there doesn’t seem to be serious downsides to consuming a lot.
Almonds supply around 80 milligrams per serving and spinach has 78 milligrams. Generally, a diet exceptionally high in healthy leafy greens and nuts like almonds and cashews will get you to the recommended daily amount. Five servings combined of spinach and almonds a day will get you there. That’s a lot of almonds. And a lot of spinach. Every damn day just to hit the minimum recommended amount.
As you can see in the chart below, after the most abundant foods like nuts, leafy greens, and whole grains, magnesium drops off. And, this doesn’t account for the fact that our soils where these leafy greens are coming from are becoming more and more acidic. More acidic soil disrupts the magnesium cycle (yes, it’s a thing just like the water cycle and I can’t believe we didn’t learn about it in middle school). So, our soil, and therefore the vegetables we eat that grew in the soil, contain less and less magnesium. All the more reason to opt for locally grown, organic vegetables. And, even if you are hitting the recommended daily amount through food, if you’re active (as RFS superheroes and Jedis tend to be), then you’ll need more than the RDA.
All of this adds up to an increasingly obvious reality: magnesium is one of the few scenarios, like vitamin D, where the best and most reliable option is to use a supplement. However, unlike vitamin D, magnesium supplementation is not so simple.
I was in high school when I first bought a magnesium supplement. I thought it was a no-brainer, and opted to buy the first bottle of ZMA on the bestseller list — knock out two birds with one stone and get zinc along with it. I took the recommended dose before bed.
The next morning, I woke up and ran for the toilet. It turns out, many of the most common forms of Mg in supplements — like Mg oxide, chloride, and aspartate— loosen your stools and can cause diarrhea (9). Yeah, it’s a laxative. Some forms of magnesium are even used in laxatives for constipation.
So, there’s the obvious detriment. But there’s also another one.
If an Mg supplement loosens your stools, it means you’re not absorbing the magnesium. Which defeats the point of buying it.
The laxative effect of magnesium depends on the form of magnesium. Magnesium, which you may remember from high school chemistry, is an element. It can bond to all sorts of other atoms in different combinations to create different molecules that interact differently with the world. Unfortunately, most magnesium supplements are stuffed with these inferior forms, because they cost less, and are easier to mass-produce.
Frustrated that I couldn’t take any Mg without running to the bathroom multiple times a day, I dug deeper into the question of Mg supplementation. I’d heard that by taking Epsom salt (Magnesium sulfate) baths or using an Mg cream I could absorb Magnesium through my skin transdermally. Problem solved. Except, most of the scientific evidence doesn’t support this (10). Current research says we can’t absorb Mg through our skin. To believe that transdermal magnesium supplementation is effective relies on trusting stories about the health benefits of the Dead Sea, rather than evidence guided by the scientific method.
This is not to say transdermal magnesium supplementation isn’t effective, I just haven’t seen enough convincing evidence for it.
Since Mg has been studied so extensively, there’s research on many different forms of Magnesium. In each form, the Mg atoms are bonded onto different atoms. Mg Oxide, for example, is a simple ionic bond. Mg l-threonate, on the other hand, is bonded to an amino acid and has shown promising benefits for learning and memory (11). Mg orotate, to name another example, has shown promise for heart health and metabolic benefits (12).
Not all forms are equal in their efficacy, and many carry unique benefits.
To take advantage of the benefits of all the best forms of Mg, you’d have to handpick five different supplements (which would take a ton of time to research), in total costing a month’s worth of groceries, and then, figure out a complicated supplementation schedule. Yeah, I’ll pass on that.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to spend too much of my energy worrying about which form of freaking magnesium to take. I’d rather just find one supplement that contains several proven, effective forms and never have to worry about it again.
Now, handpicking specific forms of magnesium is a fine decision as well. For example, if you’re taking magnesium specifically for brain health and memory, l-threonate is what you really want. If you’re focused on muscle gain, magnesium chelate appears to give an extra boost (13). For metabolic benefits, you can specifically look into magnesium orotate (14).
If you’re taking magnesium for overall health and performance increases, this is the best magnesium supplement I’ve seen. You can get all the benefits of magnesium in one supplement. Improved sleep, enhanced performance, and yes, you’ll even be less likely to die. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still die (unless scientists get on this immortality thing), but you can enhance the quality and length of your life by taking care of a common nutrient deficiency.
Magnesium Breakthrough from the lads at BiOptimizers contains a whopping seven forms of absorbable, bioavailable magnesium. For the vast majority of trainees, it’s going to be your best option rather than spending heaps of money on different forms.
Magnesium Breakthrough contains SEVEN types of Mg:
Magnesium bisglycinate (also called chelated magnesium glycinate)
What you won’t notice in this list are the forms of magnesium that are used in laxatives, like magnesium oxide, magnesium chloride, or magnesium sulfate.
A two capsule serving of Magnesium Breakthrough 500mg of elemental Mg, 120% of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, without the laxative effect or other side effects. That in addition to what you intake in your diet
That’s it. That’s my pitch. So I guess if you want to sleep better, feel better, and live longer or whatever then you should probably go check out Magnesium Breakthrough.