You already have a great work out program, follow it diligently, eat high quality protein and have cut out junk food. And of course you’re too smart to fall for “superfood” marketing on the shelves, but is there anything out there that can boost your results? The great news is “Yes!” there is much more to fuelling muscle cells than counting macros and lifting weights.
Magnesium powered workouts
by Michelle Sheppard – RD
The molecule that gives dark green veggies their emerald hue is chlorophyll, and right at the centre of each chlorophyll molecule is the mineral magnesium. While Vitamin D and carbs get all the limelight when it comes to health, magnesium is quietly keeping our cells in tip top shape. From priming muscle cells to do more work, to building stronger bones, and helping manage our nervous system and mood.
If a muscle cell is like a city, the mitochondria are the power plants. Using nutrients to pump out the energy currency of our bodies, ATP. When we train, our bodies learn to increase capacity for generating power by building more “power plants” and making the ones we have more efficient. This helps our muscle cells generate more power for longer. Magnesium is key to maximize both of these training benefits and clients see lagging gains in endurance or power when they don’t get enough.
To increase the number of the mitochondria power plants, they need to copy over their DNA. Magnesium is a cofactor in the enzymes that complete this process so new mitochondria can be built. Not enough magnesium, no new mitochondria to power tougher workouts.
Exercise and energy production naturally produce free radicals that damage mitochondrial DNA, and if they go unrepaired, will causes them to be less efficient (meaning you’ll run out of steam sooner). Yet again, magnesium is the key nutrient that completes these DNA repair enzymes. Without enough in the diet we just can’t keep up with the constant restoration needed to keep our cells and power houses healthy during and after workouts.
How much magnesium is enough?
So we get it, Magnesium is important for keeping muscle cells working at their peak. How do you get enough?
The absolute minimum is about 400 mg of Magnesium per day. This is the RDA, which is the amount that will prevent serious and obvious health consequences. This may not be enough for optimal anti-aging on a cellular level, and you’ll definitely need more if you engage in regular and medium to high intensity workouts just because those cells will be experiencing more oxidative damage (that normal side effect of producing energy in our cells).
Food sources of magnesium
Luckily, that chlorophyll molecule means that Magnesium in vegetables is colour coded. The darkest or brightest greens on the produce aisle or at the farmer’s market will all be awesome sources of magnesium.
You can also find magnesium in the foods below. Because the magnesium in these guys is a little less bioavailable (harder for our bodies to pull out), I always encourage a mix of sources, including leafy greens above and the foods below.
Beans and legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas and the like)
Power up today!
Here are a few very simple things you can do starting today, that will help you achieve the results you want, with real food!
- Eat 2-3 big handfuls of a dark leafy green every day. This is hands down the best way to boost your magnesium levels and pack in gut healthy fibre and a host of other phytonutrients. Throw some in a smoothie, toss a handful or two in to a pasta sauce or stir fry, and have a salad on the side at lunch or dinner. If you find the bitterness of greens tough to swallow, try adding a bit of sweetness to the dish, like a bit of maple syrup in vinaigrette or a handful or sweet blueberries on a salad. It counteracts the bitter flavour on your buds for a more pleasurable meal.
- Include nuts and seeds in your diet a few days each week. A sprinkle of chia seeds on yogurt, pumpkin seeds on a salad or substitute almonds in to a homemade pesto.
- Include legumes a few days each week. Just like the leafy greens, you’ll get the side bonus of a whole bunch of other nutrients including fibre, protein and folate. These guys tend to promote good long-term gut health too, and a healthy gut is better at nutrient absorption in the long run.
About the author
Michelle Shepherd is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Westcoast Nutrition. She is registered with the College of Dietitians of BC. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Food Nutrition and Health at the University of British Columbia, followed by an accredited internship with Vancouver Coastal Health. Michelle works both as a clinical and private practice dietitian, teaching clients how to leverage food and nutrition to meet their health goals.