Cramps, Fatigue, Irritability or Sleep. What Else Does Magnesium Affect?

Cramps, Fatigue, Irritability or Sleep. What Else Does Magnesium Affect?

Magnesium is a mineral that probably deserves a lot more attention than it’s currently receiving. It is sufficient to have an intake less than 1 gram of magnesium a day, it has so many tasks to do in the body that it may not know what to do first. It is involved in more than 300 chemical reactions, which are essential for the proper functioning of the human body. These include the production of energy, proteins or properly functioning muscles.

Even though magnesium is found in ordinary foods, some people still have its deficiency. In this article, you will learn how magnesium deficiency can manifest itself and who is most often affected. You will also find that it can help to improve sports performance or for a better quality sleep. Last but not least, you will also get acquainted with food sources and recommended daily intake. 

What exactly is magnesium and what is its function in the body?

Magnesium, is a mineral all of us need for proper functioning of the muscles, heart and brain. It is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses. It is one of the essential nutrients that the body cannot produce on its own, so it must be ingested regularly via our diet. After passing through the digestive system, it is stored mainly in the bones and muscles, from which it is then distributed where needed. A 70 kg person can contain around 24 g of magnesium. Unused and excess amounts are then excreted out of the body in urine. [1-2]

What are the effects of magnesium?

Why is magnesium so important in the body?

  1. More than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body depend on it, which play an important role in energy production not only for working muscles, protein formation, blood sugar level or blood pressure control.
  2. It is needed for the synthesis of DNA, which carries genetic information and is contained in almost every human cell.
  3. It plays a role in the production of an antioxidant called glutathione peroxidase, promoting natural protection against oxidative stress and premature cell ageing.
  4. It helps to reduce fatigue and exhaustion by participating in ATP energy production and helps stabilise blood sugar levels.
  5. It helps to prevent cramps as the muscle moves, alternating between contraction (shortening) and relaxation (relaxation). The contraction releases calcium, which is then blocked by magnesium, leading to relaxation. In the case of magnesium deficiency, the muscle does not relax, and an unpleasant cramp can occur.
  6. It promotes bone health by playing an important role in bone formation.
  7. It contributes to the proper functioning of the psyche and nervous system because it is involved in the transmission of signals between the muscles and nerves. Furthermore, it also regulates some receptors in the brain that are linked to learning and memory.   [3-5]

What are signs of magnesium deficiency?

The average person living in a developed country takes in less and less magnesium from their diet. At the end of the 19th century, the normal daily intake of this mineral was around 500 mg. One hundred years later, this has reduced to an average of 175-225 mg daily. This is more than half the decrease. A study conducted in the United States of America came up with such conclusions. [6]

It’s probably due to the modern (Western) way of eating. This is characterised by a greater representation of highly processed industrial foods, which typically have an excess of fats, simple sugars and are nutritionally poor. On the contrary, the diet of the typical inhabitant of a developed country often lacks basic raw ingredients, such as legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, which naturally contain magnesium and are generally nutritionally richer. [6]

What is the average intake of magnesium in the countries studied? 

Magnesium intake has been monitored in several countries with the following results:

  • In a study of 16,000 people in Germany, researchers found that 33.7% of them had a lower intake of magnesium than the daily recommended use. [7]
  • In a Mexican study of 1972 adults, 37.6% of study participants were found to be magnesium deficient. [8]
  • According to population studies, nearly half (48%) of the U.S. population receive less magnesium than its recommended daily intake. [9]

Sufficient magnesium intake is even more important in athletes, but they have also been found deficient:

  • After 8 years of monitoring Britain’s elite athletes, 22% of them were found to have low levels of magnesium in their bodies. A link between magnesium deficiency and a higher incidence of muscle injury or tendon pain has also been discovered. [10]
  • After a comprehensive comparison of several studies, it was found that most of the athletes studied did not have a sufficient intake of magnesium, which may compromise their physical performance. [11]
Magnesium is important for the psyche and reduces fatigue and exhaustion

What can cause a lack of magnesium?

Magnesium deficiency may not only be due to low intake or impaired absorption. Other factors listed below also play a role. [12-14]

  1. Health problems: in some cases, magnesium deficiency is caused by certain conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes, indigestion or poorly functioning kidneys.
  2. Medication: some medicines affect the absorption process of magnesium and may be responsible for the lack of magnesium in the body.
  3. High alcohol intake: this causes higher losses of magnesium through the excretory system.
  4. Excessive sweating: magnesium is one of the electrolytes that we naturally lose through sweat. Long-term, massive sweat losses may be responsible for the lack of magnesium.
  5. Stressful periods or pregnancy: this, too, may affect the increased demands on magnesium intake.

If you are wondering if you have enough magnesium, see your general practitioner and have a blood test taken. According to the results, a more precise strategy can then be established to replenish magnesium in the body.  

What can cause a lack of magnesium?

How can magnesium deficiency manifest itself?  

Magnesium is involved in more than 300 metabolic processes in the body. Its deficiency can thus manifest itself in different ways. However, some symptoms are typical of this condition. 

  1. Irritability: this may be closely related to the lack of magnesium, as this mineral generally has calming effects on the nervous system.
  2. Muscle spasms: magnesium in the muscle blocks calcium, which is involved in the contraction (shortening) phase of the muscle. A lack of magnesium can cause the muscle to remain shortened, and the release phase does not occur. This can cause cramping, tingling or twitching in the muscles. These unpleasant manifestations occur during sport, but also at rest, for example during sleep. Its lack also affects small muscles in the face. This can feel like a tic or a ‘twitching’ in the eyelid.
  3. Inability to concentrate: magnesium deficiency can affect the function of neuroreceptors that are related to brain functions such as memory, thinking or concentration.
  4. Lack of energy: small amounts of magnesium in the body negatively affect the production of ATP cellular energy, which can lead to a feeling of increased fatigue and lack of energy.
  5. Impaired sleep: magnesium regulates receptors (GABA) that induce a sense of relaxation and are also involved in muscle relaxation. Lack of it can thus cause problems with overall relaxation, which is essential for inducing sleep.
  6. Increased nervousness: magnesium helps to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with feelings of nervousness, mood swings and anxiety.

Magnesium is thus an indispensable micronutrient that affects the quality of life in its entirety. Whether it concerns psychological or physical health. [13-16]

4 areas of life that a sufficient intake of magnesium can help you with

Optimal intake of magnesium is important for the overall health and harmony of the body. Its importance is even greater in sports, under stress or in women during the period before and during menstruation. It also plays an indispensable role in the issue of healthy sleep. What’s behind this? 

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1. Magnesium supports sporting performance

Athletes, for the most part, are already familiar with magnesium’s impact on performance and therefore pay close attention to its intake, either in their diet or in the form of high-quality supplements. In fact, physical activity often leads to higher losses of minerals, including magnesium, due to sweating. It is generally involved in nutrient metabolism, energy production, protein formation, muscle function and regeneration processes. In sport, the demands of these processes in the body increase, and with it the need for it increases. [17] [18-22]

What are the main functions of magnesium in sport?

  1. It helps energise working muscles. Magnesium is involved in the metabolism of all nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) that are a source of energy for the body. In order for muscles to use this energy for movement, it is necessary to transform it into ATP. It is in this process that magnesium plays an important role.
  2. It is essential for proper muscle function. Without magnesium, our muscles would remain in constant tension. It is involved in their relaxation (release) that occurs after contraction (shortening). Therefore, a lack of this substance can lead to unpleasant muscle spasms.
  3. It promotes healthy bones. Magnesium is needed to convert inactive vitamin D into its usable form. Vitamin D further promotes calcium absorption, which is essential for bone health. Magnesium is also often associated with higher bone density, which increases their resistance to fractures.
  4. It helps to reduce fatigue and exhaustion. An adequate intake of magnesium is also linked to the maintenance of stable blood sugar (glucose) levels. This helps prevent muscle weakness and mental fatigue, which are often caused by a rapid drop in blood sugar.
  5. Performance and regeneration support. Magnesium is also important for the proper transmission of signals between muscles and nerves. This is important when lifting a heavy weight or we need to react immediately during the game and make a quick move. A well-functioning cooperation between muscles and nerves also allows the athlete to rest and promotes sleep quality. Thanks to this, magnesium promotes both physical and psychological regeneration in an active individual.
Why is magnesium important in sports?

2. Magnesium reduces unpleasant PMS symptoms

Magnesium may help to reduce the discomfort experienced by women before and during menstruation. These include headaches, swelling, cramps, tiredness or mood swings. Some or all of them are met by almost half of women of reproductive age. According to studies conducted, magnesium can help reduce these unpleasant symptoms due to its effects. It is most commonly recommended in combination with vitamin B6, which promotes its calming effect. [23-25]

PMS often causes bloating. What to do about it can be found in the article Why You Suffer From A Bloated Belly and How To Get Rid Of It?

Magnesium helps with PMS

3. Magnesium promotes proper mental function and stress management 

A magnesium deficiency can also affect mental health. It may make us feel nervous, irritable, and we may also find it harder to handle stressful situations. This is due to several effects. 

Magnesium primarily promotes the transmission of nerve signals and also regulates neurotransmitters that affect brain function. They include glutamate, which is excitatory. This means it activates brain functions such as concentration, memory and thinking. [26-27]

Excessive glutamate activity, however, can make for quite a merry-go-round in the head. Magnesium can reduce the activity of glutamate, helping to keep your mind calm. It also acts on another neurotransmitter called GABA, which is more likely to have relaxing effects. By increasing its activity, magnesium also promotes better stress management. [26-27]

In addition, enough magnesium is associated with low levels of the hormone cortisol. This is one of the so-called stress hormones. This is another mechanism of action of magnesium, which in this way completes a notional puzzle for easier handling of stressful situations. [28]

What else can you do to better manage stress, see the article Why Stress Is Dangerous and How to Reduce It?

Magnesium helps with stress

4. Better quality sleep by calming the mind and body

Sleep is important not only for the regeneration of mental and psychological forces, but especially for the maintenance of overall health. This is not in vain, as will we sleep about a third of our lives. Once you get a bad night’s sleep, it affects the whole of the next day negatively. Bad mood, tiredness and constantly yawning together with an inability to concentrate means suffering rather than a productive day. By contrast, undisturbed sleep acts as a natural pre-workout.

It is good quality sleep that can be supported by adequate intake of magnesium. It can calm our head and body. In particular, magnesium may increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which has relaxing effects. It also helps to relax tired muscles, which contributes to a general reduction in the feeling of tension, allowing us to fall asleep more easily and quickly overall. [29-30]

If you are interested in what else you can do to get a better sleep, read the article How to Improve Sleep and How Does It Affect The Health and Growth Of Muscle Mass?

Magnesium helps with sleep

What to eat for enough magnesium in the body?

If you want to focus on a sufficient magnesium intake, you should definitely not cut out these foods in your diet. [31]


Amount of magnesium in 100g

Cashews or cashew butter292 mg
Almonds and almond butter 270 mg
Dark chocolate228 mg
Quinoa197 mg
Oatmeal177 mg
Beans171 mg
Peanuts and peanut butter 168 mg
Tahini95 mg
Tempeh 81 mg
Spinach79 mg

How to increase magnesium intake from your diet?

Do you regularly include the listed foods with a high magnesium content in your diet? If not, then try to make the following changes to your diet to naturally increase your magnesium levels.

Simple adjustments in your diet for a higher intake of magnesium:

  1. Replace white bread with wholemeal with a high content of wholemeal flour.
  2. Replace side dishes in the form of white rice or classic pasta with quinoa, legume pasta, buckwheat or potatoes.
  3. For each main meal, prepare a vegetable salad and add leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, romaine lettuce).
  4. When preparing a vegetable salad, go easy with the mayonnaise or oil dressing and add pumpkin, sunflower or hemp seeds.
  5. Add a portion of 100% nut butter to your morning oats, add a small handful of nuts or cocoa beans.
  6. Replace sweets with fresh fruit with a mixture of nuts and seeds, a square of quality dark chocolate or a healthy home-made dessert in which you have replaced the white flour with a wholemeal option or a mixture of oat flakes.
  7. Reduce alcohol consumption. For non-alcoholic drinks, try lemon and mint or try a chilled decaf BCAA drink.
  8. Instead of strict, unnecessarily restrictive diets and diet drinks, bet on a balanced healthy diet.

If you’re interested in more tips for building a healthy diet, you surely shouldn’t miss the article What Is a Healthy Diet and How to Learn to Eat Healthily?

How to increase your magnesium intake via diet?

Daily recommended intake of magnesium

The recommended daily intake for adults is between 300-400 mg per day. This dose may sometimes not be sufficient and in some cases may need to be increased. This often occurs with increased sweating (sport, movement in a hot environment, increased body temperature), gastrological problems or during stress periods. [32-33]

  • During demanding sporting activities, magnesium demands can increase by up to 10-20%. [34-35]

What form of magnesium in food supplements is the best?

Magnesium-containing supplements are an ideal choice for those who do not regularly eat magnesium-rich foods or want to insure their adequate intake with a supplement. You can take these supplements in the form of capsules, soluble powder, shots or effervescent tablets.

When choosing the ideal supplement, it is important to keep an eye on what biological form the magnesium is in. This form affects the absorption and usability of magnesium in the body. 

  • Better absorbed forms: Citrate, chelated, for example, in the form of bisglycinate or lactate.
  • Less absorbable forms: oxide, sulphate, carbonate.

For example, the absorption of chelated forms (most commonly in the form of magnesium bisglycinate) is in many cases up to several times more than the oxide form. Magnesium in liposomal form also offers great usability and absorption, which allows it to enter the blood even faster through the digestive system and can have up to 95% absorption. [36-38]

Dietary supplements with magnesium

What does magnesium help with?

  • It helps to reduce fatigue and exhaustion.
  • It promotes proper muscle function and the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. 
  • It helps maintain proper functioning of the nervous system and psyche.
  • It is involved in protein synthesis.
  • It contributes to the release and consumption of energy. 
  • It promotes the maintenance of electrolyte balance in the body.
  • It plays a role in the process of cell division.

What should you remember?

A number of important processes in the body depend on magnesium. Its importance increases in sport, in stressful situations or in women before and during menstruation. It also has a small impact on stress management and restful sleep. A lack of magnesium can result in muscle spasms, fatigue or nervousness. This can be prevented by sufficient intake of this mineral from your diet or supplements. For this, it is important to select products with an organic form of magnesium, which typically has a higher absorption rate in the body.

Do you supplement magnesium or do you rely on your dietary intake? If you liked this article, don’t forget to share it with your friends so that they can learn about the importance of sufficient magnesium intake. 


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