One of the most important nutrients for your body is the element magnesium. Most people know all about calcium and its importance for various functions in the body but magnesium is the middle child that can make or break your day. Most of the time it will break your day, and that’s because a lot of people (especially if they are under a lot of stress…and who isn’t) are deficient. Magnesium does a lot of really important things in the body but two of the most important are supporting healthy adrenal function (hormones like testosterone and adrenaline for example) and helping muscles relax. It is funny that so many people think that cramping if caused by a potassium deficiency. It is almost always caused by dehydration, salt loss from sweating, or not enough magnesium. In 15 years I have met one cramper that was helped by potassium (one! out of a whole pile of athletes! so please loose the banana and eat a pickle with a big glass of water, if that doesn’t do the trick its time to pick up a high quality magnesium supplement). Why you ask, does magnesium help with cramping? Well, the body is amazing in that when in a relaxed position the body has already done the work for the contraction to come, like leaving a gun cocked, then when needed, calcium just pulls the trigger. Once it fires, the magnesium removes the calcium from the trigger and the body “recocks” the muscle with ATP so that it can easily be fired again. A full contraction is actually a rapid series of these actions in succession. Here is the crazy part, using this analogy, flexing your bicep is the equivalent of holding down the trigger of a mini-gun (I guess that means that a 1 RM squat is like unloading all an Apache’s ammo in the squeeze of one button….including a few thousand rounds from it’s 50 cal mini-gun and all of its hellfire’s which is kind of what you feel like you’ve done when you finish). Anywho, sorry about the testosterone tangent. The point is that without sufficient magnesium the muscle cannot relax (also known as cramp). By the way, guess what your heart is….a muscle. But Jeremy, I can’t get a cramp in my heart! …..ever heard of an arrhythmia? The heart just kind of sticks between between beats. Sometimes that’s because of something screwy in the nervous, but sometimes it is magnesium (or salt or maybe potassium). This is particularly common in atrial arrhythmia’s, but less common in ventricular arrhythmia’s. While we are talking about the cardiovascular system, guess what surrounds your arteries that controls your blood pressure…muscles. It is no wonder that magnesium supplementation typically lowers blood pressure. Do you ever get the headaches that start in your neck and travel across the top of your skull just before it feels like your eyes are going to explode? A great trick is the rub a little transdermal magnesium on your neck and shoulders, then your forehead (if you’d shave you head you could rub down your scalp as well….don’t you know that know ones likes hair anyway). Then wallah, in 5 minutes the headache starts to disappear. In addition all of these other nasties, because of magnesium’s role in adrenal function it means that you may also inhibit some of that wonderful stuff called adrenaline. All in all, a magnesium deficiency can ruin your day.
Fortunately your body will typically give you a few signs if you are paying attention. One of them is twitches. These can come from a myriad of places but the eyelid is very common. It could just as easily be a quad, bicep of even a lower back spasm. Quite often you will experience more than one (usually repetitive twitching and multisite). Some people will just say that those are caused by stress, and that you must be stressed. Don’t worry about those people, they are right and wrong. Stress does cause those things, and you are probably stressed, or had a few hard workouts in a row, or you may even be fighting something off. But if you recall from above I said that magnesium is effected by stress. And again that is because of its role in adrenal function. When stress goes up, adrenal function goes up, and magnesium gets used up. Then comes the spasms. Another common problem associated with low magnesium levels is poor quality sleep. So if you have one or more symptom, it time to check out a good magnesium source.
For systemic magnesium I highly recommend a fully chelated magnesium or a magnesium orotate as these absorb the best, cause the least GI distress (typically none, even in high doses) and have the best bio-availability (they have the most benefit). For immediate muscular relief from headaches and spasms I recommend a transdermal magnesium (rubs on like a lotion).
Some of you may have noted above that I also said that magnesium could make your day. this is because it can help by improving, speed, strength and performance. That is because most of us are at least a little deficient in magnesium. Which means that if you supplement it will likely help improve your heart output and blood flow while also allowing a more powerful muscular contraction. Its improvement in cardiac output as well as muscle force come from the ability to aid the muscle in relaxing between contractions which actually primes the muscle for a stronger subsequent contraction. Its kind of like dropping a little before you jump.