Resting as Well as You Train
For most of us, time spent on the bike is invaluable. We fit workouts into our schedules wherever possible, braving chilly autumn mornings and chasing the daylight after work. Often, so much effort is focused toward getting on the bike, our time off the bike is sidelined. Besides recovery drinks and foam rollers, everyone knows that ‘plain old rest’ is one of the most important pieces of recovery—staying off the legs and getting enough sleep. But what if your body is missing a key component in it’s ability to fully rest?
Magnesium (Mg), a trace element nutrient readily available in nature, is critical for the body’s ability to optimize sleep patterns and experience physical rest. It activates amino acids, promotes deeper sleep, and aids in recovery. The problem is that around 50% of Americans are deficient in this key mineral. What’s worse, researchers have found that having even minor magnesium deficiency can “amplif[y] the negative consequences of strenuous exercise (e.g., oxidative stress).”
Chris Burnham of Burnham Coaching in Monterey, CA has seen these effects first-hand. “Magnesium is required for a large amount of physiological functions, so correcting a deficiency can drastically improve athletic ability and recovery.” As the Road Cycling Director for Bear Development Team, Burnham evaluates each athlete for nutrient deficiencies as early as possible. Supplementation techniques alongside a proper diet are continually emphasized in each athlete’s training, regardless of symptoms. Bottom line: you may want to consider taking a magnesium supplement.
But with so many supplement options on the market, what kind of magnesium supplement should you consider taking? What should you be looking out for? As is the case with most supplements, rule number one is bioavailability—how easily a nutrient can be absorbed into the body. A supplement is only helpful if your body’s systems can utilize it properly! Below we’ll take a look at the most commonly offered Magnesium types and how they interact with the body.
Forms of Magnesium
Magnesium Oxide is perhaps the most widely distributed Mg supplements on the market. Found in most multivitamins and low-cost capsules, Magnesium Oxide is widely available in nature, composing a large portion of the earth’s crust. Unfortunately, studies have shown this source to have a very low bioavailability rating, ranging anywhere from 4% to 43%. In fact, one study found Magnesium Oxide to be virtually insoluble in water! While the more economical price tag may be enticing, you should probably consider a more efficient form.
Coming from Lactic Acid, Magnesium Lactate is an organic compound, meaning it is bonded with carbon, among other things. In fact, Magnesium Lactate only contains about 12% magnesium; but don’t let this scare you away! Magnesium Lactate is still very soluble, and easily beats out Magnesium Oxide in the bioavailability battle. Look for Magnesium Lactate in higher- quality multivitamins or as stand-alone supplements.
Magnesium Citrate, an organic compound of citric acid, is also a significant upgrade from Mg Oxide in regards to bioavailability. Studies found Magnesium Citrate to be much more soluble, with a minimum of 65% being absorbed into the body. Coach Burnham believes this form to be a top performer when it comes to recovery and the promotion of good sleep, but is cautious regarding dosage: “Taken in excess, Magnesium Citrate can cause loose stools and GI distress.” Magnesium Citrate should be a top contender in your supplement search, but it may require time to ‘dial in’ the optimum dosage.
An inorganic compound (read: not bound to carbon), Magnesium Chloride is exceptionally soluble, making it an ideal candidate for supplementation. Though more expensive than its counterparts, Mg Chloride is incredibly versatile, and can even be used topically. Burnham often recommends his athletes use Magnesium oil for post-ride muscle massages: “It really helps my athletes with muscle recovery and relaxation.” (To learn more about topical usage, check out this article.)
Burnham’s all-around winner is Magnesium Aspartate, which he recommends to athletes who he suspects are deficient in the mineral or simply lack an adequate amount of energy. Mg Aspartate’s bioavailability is a step above Mg Oxide and Mg Citrate, and studies suggest a positive effect in the reduction of muscle ‘hyper-excitability’, or twitching.
A Holistic Approach
As is the case with everything in health, maintaining proper nutrition requires more than simply ‘popping a pill.’ Burnham cautions that, “For proper magnesium absorption, one must have adequate Selenium, parathyroid, B6, and Vitamin D levels. Being Mg deficient may be a sign of another underlying physiological issue, so just supplementing with Mg may only be applying a ‘band-aid’ to the issue.”
Of course, if you believe you have a deficiency, it is probably best to enlist the help of a nutritionist or coach. Ensuring a proper diet rich in fruits and vegetables, however, goes a long way in providing the building blocks necessary for recovery. Whole foods naturally contain balanced levels of nutrients, are much easier on your body’s systems than processed foods, and are better suited to support your long-term athletic growth.
By combining a balanced diet with mineral supplementation, you may just find yourself with more energy on and off the bike! For more resources on the topic, check out Ancient Minerals’ website, or add to the conversation below!