Tag Archives: magnesium

Electrolytes for summer exercise

Summer will soon be upon us. It will soon be crazy hot. The heat can make outdoor endurance exercise a lot more challenging as well as potentially dangerous if you are not prepared for it. Ensuring you are getting enough electrolytes before exercise and replacing them through food or electrolyte-enriched fluids during or after exercise is of utmost importance since we can lose a lot through sweating.

Electrolytes are absolutely essential for proper functioning of the nerves, and muscles, especially the heart muscle. Drinking too much pure water that does not contain electrolytes after vigorous exercise can cause your electrolytes to become very diluted. In extreme cases, this can lead to hyponatremia, which means the blood sodium level is critically low. This condition can result in death. Every now and then, some marathoners die from this.

Fortunately, these problems are easy to avoid if you drink sports drinks or fruit/vegetable juices. If you have a blender or juicer to make vegetable juice or smoothies, this is even better. Nuts are also a great source of electrolytes.

If you are an endurance athlete, one particular mineral that you may need to pay extra attention to during the summer months is magnesium. You very likely need more than the average person. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise:

Magnesium is involved in numerous processes that affect muscle function including oxygen uptake, energy production and electrolyte balance. Thus, the relationship between magnesium status and exercise has received significant research attention. This research has shown that exercise induces a redistribution of magnesium in the body to accommodate metabolic needs. There is evidence that marginal magnesium deficiency impairs exercise performance and amplifies the negative consequences of strenuous exercise (e.g., oxidative stress). Strenuous exercise apparently increases urinary and sweat losses that may increase magnesium requirements by 10-20%. Based on dietary surveys and recent human experiments, a magnesium intake less than 260 mg/day for male and 220 mg/day for female athletes may result in a magnesium-deficient status. Recent surveys also indicate that a significant number of individuals routinely have magnesium intakes that may result in a deficient status. Athletes participating in sports requiring weight control (e.g., wrestling, gymnastics) are apparently especially vulnerable to an inadequate magnesium status. Magnesium supplementation or increased dietary intake of magnesium will have beneficial effects on exercise performance in magnesium-deficient individuals. Magnesium supplementation of physically active individuals with adequate magnesium status has not been shown to enhance physical performance. An activity-linked RNI or RDA based on long-term balance data from well-controlled human experiments should be determined so that physically active individuals can ascertain whether they have a magnesium intake that may affect their performance or enhance their risk to adverse health consequences (e.g., immunosuppression, oxidative damage, arrhythmias).

Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of both magnesium and zinc. Some people may even take multi-mineral supplements or salt in the extreme heat. Do all you can to make sure you are getting your electrolytes, along with proper hydration, when exercising in the extreme heat. Slow down, and drink a lot of fluid(with electrolytes) every 20 to 30 minutes if you are sweating profusely.

Lactic acid is not your enemy

The idea that lactic acid causes muscle fatigue and stiffness during exercise is a stubborn one. It has been discredited by scientific research, but many fitness enthusiasts still see lactic acid as an enemy that interferes with performance.

Not only does lactic acid(which in the body is in the form called “lactate”) not cause muscle fatigue, it is actually used as an important fuel during vigorous exercise.

This myth goes back to the early 20th century, but it was fully discredited only recently.

All this begs the question: What is causing the fatigue and stiffness that was once blamed on lactate? According to researchers at Columbia University, it may be caused by overworked muscles leaking calcium, among many other factors. And acidity in general in fatigued muscles may play a role in stiffness and fatigue, it’s just not the lactate causing most of it.

So what’s the solution? The idea of calcium leakage partially causing muscle fatigue doesn’t mean most people should consume less calcium, as this is a vital mineral(it is possible to get too much, and it can cause problems but this is rare). However, and I am just speculating here, maybe ensuring adequate vitamin K consumption can help prevent this a little, since it helps with calcium metabolism, along with making sure you get enough magnesium. Calcium helps muscles contract, magnesium helps them contract as well as relax; if you have too much calcium in your body relative to the amount of magnesium, this can be problematic(in fact, not getting enough magnesium may be detrimental to your heart).

It is relatively east to get enough magnesium if you eat like a rabbit – lots of leafy greens, nuts, and whole grains. Fermented vegetables are an especially good source of vitamin K. If you are taking calcium supplements, it may be a good idea to take supplements that combine magnesium with the calcium, to counteract the potentially negative effects of calcium. Try discussing this with your doctor or pharmacist.

Proper hydration and making sure you are getting the right amount of electrolytes helps too. I don’t think stretching would help, since just because a muscle is stiff doesn’t mean it needs to be stretched. Increasingly, science is showing that stretching is practically useless for most people.