The foods we eat can change the way our bodies use energy, thereby affecting our athletic performance. Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common deficiencies in the United States. This mineral is found in every cell in the body; it supports over 300 enzymatic reactions, and it plays a significant role in how you produce energy.When we talk about "energy," we are really talking about adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule our bodies produce. When we eat, our bodies metabolize the food, breaking it down and creating ATP. Our cells use ATP to keep us alive and moving around. For athletes, training helps their bodies produce ATP more efficiently, leading to improved work capacity and better endurance. Learn more about how ATP works.
In order for ATP to become usable, it must bind to a magnesium ion, which makes the mineral very important. Without adequate amounts of magnesium in our diets, our cells cannot produce the high amount of ATP molecules we need to maximize our athletic performance. As levels drop further, muscle spasms can occur and electrolyte balance can be disrupted. Magnesium also contributes to bone development, which can be adversely impacted if levels are too low.
Most people in the U.S. who eat lots of processed foods have subpar levels of magnesium. This hinders their energy production, but it's not low enough to show a deficiency in the blood during a blood test. As an athlete, you need to consume adequate amounts of magnesium to ensure your body is producing as much ATP as possible.
Men need about 420 mg and women need about 320 mg daily. Getting the mineral through food is the best option. You can purchase over-the-counter supplements, but they can cause diarrhea and their absorption rates vary from person to person. Foods high in fiber are typically good sources of magnesium. Options include almonds, spinach, kale, pumpkin seeds, black-eyed peas, brown rice, quinoa, mackerel and tuna.
Here are a few athlete friendly meals that are high in magnesium.
- 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds or slivered almonds over oatmeal at breakfast (136 mg)
- ½ cup beans added to a salad or wrap for lunch (60 mg)
- 1 cup of cooked spinach with ½ cup quinoa and 3 oz. tuna for dinner (300 mg)