Tag Archives: Magnesium


6 Essential Nutrients For The Athlete

Optimizing nutrition when you’re an athlete (or even if you workout regularly) can make a significant difference in your health and performance on the court, field or at the gym.

Just like exercising your muscles through cardiovascular workouts or strength training is important, so is fueling your body properly through your diet. Unfortunately, when this doesn’t happen it can negatively affect performance, and in some cases, impair immune function. [1] [2]

Increased Energy and Nutrient Needs

Focusing on some key nutrients can not only increase endurance in the athlete but also improve overall health by bolstering the immune system, improving bone health and minimizing oxidative stress.

Eating adequate amounts of micronutrients and vitamins is vital to muscle building and recovery from the physiological stress of intense activity or playing sports. Nutrient needs are increased when metabolic and biochemical pathways are taxed via exercise which is used to repair lean tissue.

Supplements can help but the idea is to make food your primary source of nutrients because your body utilizes food differently than supplements. [3]

Food also includes fibre, other vitamins and essential nutrients that work together to create energy and fuel cells.  These important components in the diet are more depleted in athletes that don’t consume adequate calories and/or restrict or eliminate food groups.

The 6 Most Essential Nutrients For Athletic People:

Zinc

Individuals who are athletic are especially susceptible to being low in zinc mainly because they aren’t eating enough rich food sources of this mineral.

Zinc plays a part in immunity, protein utilization, and metabolic efficiency as well as thyroid function, and all of these affect athletic performance in some way.

Foods that are high in zinc include meat and poultry, whole grains, oysters, milk and dairy, legumes and fortified breakfast cereals.

Those that are most at risk for a deficiency are vegetarians who don’t eat enough whole grains or meat. It must be noted that overdoing zinc supplementation can result in a copper deficiency. Be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner to discuss supplementation.

Iron

Iron is necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fat as well as its capacity to carry oxygen.  A deficiency may inhibit endurance as well as immune and cognitive functions.

Foods that are high in iron include red meat, fortified cereals eaten along with fruit or vegetables that are high in vitamin C.  This vitamin will enhance iron absorption and improve iron status in an individual.

Calcium

Calcium aids in muscle contraction and nerve impulses, as well as bone growth and increasing bone mass. Poor calcium intake can lead bone-related issues such as stress fractures.

Foods high in calcium include cheese, milk, yogurt, spinach, collard greens, almonds, sardines (with the bones!), fortified cereals and juices.

Vitamin D

This vitamin is needed for adequate calcium absorption in the gut, to control serum calcium and phosphorus and to build strong bones.  It also contributes to a well functioning nervous and skeletal system.

If a person lives in an area with little sunlight and they spend most of their time indoors, and because there aren’t many foods that contain vitamin D without fortification, they’re at a greater risk of having low Vitamin D – in this case, supplementation may be prudent.

The best sources are fatty fish like salmon, tuna or mackerel, and eggs. Fortified milk offers most of the vitamin D in the average diet with fortified orange juice beverages and certain cereals contributing a small amount. Again, supplementation is a wise choice!

Magnesium

Magnesium aids in more than 300 biochemical processes in the body that include:

  • helps produce ATP, essential to the metabolic activities of every cell
  • protein synthesis for muscle building
  • relaxes muscles and nerves
  • calms the mind
  • aids in calcium absorption
  • regulation of blood pressure & heart rhythm

All of which are concerns to an athlete!

Sources of Magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, seeds, meat and dairy. Some breakfast cereals are also fortified with Magnesium.

However, as we explained in “Nutrient Deficiencies: Why Nearly Everyone Has Them!”, the composition of what we eat and the quality of our foods has drastically changed over the past hundred years, and this has made it difficult to get enough of many key minerals, especially magnesium.

DOWNLOAD MAGNESIUM: The Complete Primer or go to Magnesium.ca

B Vitamins

B vitamins all play a rather large role in energy metabolism and blood health along with building and repair of muscle tissue.

A deficiency can lead to fatigue, muscle soreness and apathy along with poor cognitive function. Meat, fish and poultry, as well as enriched grains, are good sources of B vitamins.

The bottom line on essential nutrients for everyday athletes: 

Regular exercise and sports participation increases the turnover and loss of nutrients from the body, so greater calories, vitamins, and minerals are needed to cover these losses through the diet and in some cases supplementation.

Eating a wide enough variety of foods from all the major food groups is what is needed for proper functioning of muscles, a strong immune system, and optimal performance during athletic endeavours.

Referenced content: 

[1] Science Direct. Vitamin and Mineral Status: Effects on physical performance, Elsevier Volume 20, Issues 7–8 (July–August 2004)

[2] Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology. Nutritional Strategies to Minimise Exercise-Induced Immunosuppression in Athletes (2001)

[3] JAMA Network. Essential Nutrients: Food or supplements? Where should emphasis be? (July 2005)

Nutrient Deficiencies: Why Nearly Everyone Has Them

Health Canada advises, along with many nutrition professionals, “that a healthy and balanced diet can provide most people with the nutrients essential for good health.” [1]

Does that mean that if we eat a “healthy and balanced diet”, that we’ll be meeting all the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) and we’ll be safe from nutritional deficiency?

Or do some of us follow this recommendation and still have a nutrient deficiency – and not even know it?

According to the latest Health Canada Community Survey (June 2017), Canadians as a population are not as well nourished as we may think.

Fruit and vegetables contain a range of beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and other phytochemicals. Consumption of at least 5 servings per day is linked with a reduced risk of various diseases, including cancers and heart disease. [2]

Therefore, fruit and vegetable consumption is considered a healthy behaviour, and a good indication of the overall diet and nutritional quality of a population.

However, in data from the 2017 survey, less than a third (30.0%) of Canadians aged 12 and older reported that they ate the recommended number of servings.

Given the rather significant shortfall in Canadians reaching their “5-a-day”, it’s not surprising that there are a number of nutrients reported to be lacking in our diets.

With the overall lack of adequate fruit and vegetable servings, along with soil depletion, over-processing of food, and treated water…well, it’s no wonder that many of us are lacking in a number of key nutrients that we once attained easily and ought to supplement.

For example, today you would have to eat 4 carrots to get the full amount of Magnesium available that was in just one carrot 80 years ago. Unfortunately, you’re not eating your grandmother’s carrots anymore!

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps maintain normal vision and keeps your immune system, skin, and eyes functioning at their best.

More than 35% of Canadians age 19 and over consumed vitamin A in quantities below the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR). [3]

Carotenoids, such a beta carotene, are converted into vitamin A in the body, and it gives fruits and vegetables their orange, red and yellow colour (such as pumpkin, carrots and bell peppers).

It is also found in dark green leafy vegetables; with liver, dairy, eggs, and fatty fish also being good sources of Vitamin A.

Magnesium

A nutrient that is commonly found in plant foods, but also commonly lacking in our diets, is Magnesium.

This multi-tasking mineral is involved as a cofactor for a range of biochemical reactions in the body including nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis and blood glucose control.

It is also involved in the structural development of bone and plays a role in nerve impulse conduction, maintaining a normal heart rhythm and muscle contraction.

Evidence suggests that 34% of Canadians over the age of 19 consumed magnesium in quantities below the EAR. [3]

Magnesium is found mostly in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and dark green leafy vegetables. Milk and yogurt contain some magnesium as well.

Calcium

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, provides the structure and rigidity of bones and teeth. It is also important for proper muscle function, hormone secretion, and nerve transmission. [4]

It was reported that there’s an increasing prevalence of calcium inadequacy with older age.

Calcium is found in dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, fish with soft bones and fortified products.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of Calcium from the gut, and for supporting optimal bone health. It is also thought to play a role in immune function, healthy skin, and muscle strength.

While our bodies can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, during the fall and winter months, and in northern climates, where sunlight hours are limited, it can be hard to get enough of this critical nutrient, and vitamin D deficiency can become (and is becoming) more prominent.

While about 80% of the adult Canadian population are not getting the vitamin D they need from dietary sources [3], available clinical measures do not suggest widespread Vitamin D deficiency in the Canadian population. [5] [6]

The major food sources of Vitamin D are foods that have been fortified or through supplementation.

So, how do we get all the nutrients we need?

We’ve always recommended, first and foremost, that people strive to meet their nutritional requirements through eating a varied diet with a foundation of whole and unprocessed foods.

But, as we’ve established, for various reasons it’s apparent that many of us may not be getting all the nutrients we need for optimal health.

Lack of nutrient bioavailability, poor dietary choices, restricted diets, food sensitivities, various health conditions (such as gastrointestinal disorders and poor absorption), some medications and age can all play a part in an individual’s ability to meet their recommended dietary intakes.

To determine whether or not you are at risk of a nutritional deficiency, it is important to discuss your concerns with a naturopathic doctor, a qualified nutrition professional or another healthcare provider.

In many situations, as we’ve discussed here, where diet alone is unable to meet your recommended nutrient requirements, therapeutic supplementation may be a good option.

 

Referenced Studies & Content

[1] Statistics Canada: Canadian Community Health Survey, June 2017 – Nutrition: Nutrient intakes from food and nutritional supplements
[2] Statistics Canada: Health Fact Sheets. Fruit and Vegetable consumption
[3] Health Canada: Do Canadian Adults Meet Their Nutrient Requirements Through Food Intake Alone?
[4] Health Canada: Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes
[5] Health Reports, March 2010: Vitamin D status of Canadians as measured in the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey
[6] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011: The vitamin D status of Canadians relative to the 2011 Dietary Reference Intakes: An examination in children and adults with and without supplement use

Magnesium and Cardiovascular Conditions

Blood clotting (intravascular thrombosis, heart attacks and strokes)

Clotting is a normal response to blood vessel damage. When a blood vessel wall is damaged, tiny blood cells called platelets activate. These platelets adhere to a damaged surface and release sealing agents like fibrin. Magnesium regulates the activation of these platelets by controlling calcium levels and maintaining cell receptors. That’s why magnesium is sometimes called an anticoagulant.

Magnesium deficiencies increase the risk of unnecessary platelet activation, forming more clots in blood vessels. These clots may block blood flow to the brain or heart, increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks. 

High Blood Pressure

Besides preventing blood clots, magnesium also acts as a natural vasodilator. Magnesium, as a calcium antagonist, allows the heart muscles and the smooth muscles of the arteries to rest and relax, reducing blood pressure. If there is insufficient magnesium, these blood vessels constrict, raising blood pressure.

Magnesium’s role in maintaining healthy blood pressure has a lot to do with its ability to activate the sodium-potassium pump. Even if a magnesium deficiency occurred and a sufficient supply of potassium was available, it would likely not make it into the cell to allow for proper sodium regulation.

Arrhythmia

Like elsewhere in the body, magnesium regulates concentrations of potassium and calcium in the heart as well. These concentrations control and coordinate the rhythm of electrical signal and muscle contractions.

The Canadian Cardiovascular Society recommends that hospitals administer magnesium intravenously in order to reduce the risks of atrial fibrillation.

Dietary Magnesium – What you need to know

Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies, recommend that males and females ages 19-30 take in 400 mg and 310 mg of magnesium a day respectively. Males 31 and older should up their intake to 420 mg a day, and females 31 and older should increase their daily amounts to 320 mg.

The DRI also encourages pregnant or lactating women to boost their magnesium intake even higher and to consult their doctors for suggested amounts.

Sea vegetables (kelp), nuts and seeds, beans, soybeans and some seafood (crab, clams) generally contain higher levels of magnesium compared to other foods. Grains and pseudocereals like quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice will offer you a relatively high amount of magnesium as well. But the real winners when it comes to the most nutrient dense, magnesium-rich foods are fresh vegetables and dark leafy greens like chard, collards, and spinach. Nuts and seeds pack a big punch for their size when it comes to magnesium density too!

True or False: Organic Foods Contain More Magnesium

It is no surprise that choosing to buy organic dark leafy greens and vegetables, can cost you. But if you choose to not purchase organic produce will you pay in a different way? Does buying organic make a difference in terms of mineral (magnesium) content compared to conventionally grown crops?

According to the Environmental Working Group, conventionally grown spinach ranks second when it comes to produce containing pesticide residue.

While some studies conclude that organic food may or may not be more nutritious than conventionally grown, it is safe to say that buying organic can protect you from detrimental pesticides and herbicides that generally act as antagonists when it comes to magnesium absorption and can eventually block mineral absorption and lead to mineral deficiency.

Is Dietary Intake Enough?

Swiss chard contains a whopping 150 mg of magnesium per cup. But does that mean you are covered when it comes to adequate magnesium intake? Not necessarily. Lifestyle, physiological, and agricultural factors all play roles in how dietary magnesium is absorbed. A disappointing reality, but a reality nonetheless!

Let’s Explore Why

Mineral-rich foods are becoming an anomaly these days. High rates of soil erosion account for less magnesium in the soil which results in low mineral content in plant foods including magnesium.

Many fruits and vegetables have lost large amounts of minerals and nutrients in the past 50 years. For example, McCance and Widdowson’s epic compilation, the Composition of Foods, has tracked the nutrient composition of foods since 1940. Between 1940 and 1991, there was an average magnesium decrease of 24% in vegetables and 16% in fruits.

Some foods have seen more drastic declines than others. Carrots have lost 75% of their magnesium content. You would have to eat 4 carrots today to get the same magnesium in 1 carrot from 1940!

And that’s only one reason. The health of our digestive system is also a factor in whether or not we can adequately break down food to get the good stuff. Optimum absorption is key in making sure magnesium actually enters our cells!

Absorption of dietary magnesium isn’t guaranteed, though. Enzymatic function, stomach, and bowel health are key factors in the absorption process. From the beginning of the digestive system (oral cavity) to the very end (the anus), all parts need to be working efficiently (especially the small intestine) for optimum breakdown. Even if our digestive process is working perfectly, mineral content in food likely won’t be high enough to offer our cells optimum protection.

Cooking methods and refined foods can also account for magnesium loss. If we choose to fry that one cup of swiss chard instead of bake or lightly sauté it, we can cheat ourselves out of getting the magnesium we need.

Between mineral-depleted plant foods, compromised digestive systems, and popular denaturing cooking methods, optimizing our magnesium intake via food can become quite a challenge.

The Kicker

Ironically, magnesium needs magnesium to facilitate the absorption process. It’s imperative for helping to synthesize enzymes, repair tissue in our intestinal lining, and contribute to our parasympathetic nervous system health, for starters. In order for these processes to function properly in the first place, we need to have enough magnesium in our bodies to provide energy to get these physiological jobs done and done well.