As you read this article, you have about two ounces of pure magnesium in your body – mostly in muscle and bone tissue. This mineral is essential for more than 300 reactions in your body, including nerve and cardiac function, muscle contraction and relaxation, protein formation, and perhaps most importantly for the triathlete, synthesis of ATP energy.
A magnesium deficiency can result in muscle cramping, excessive soreness, inadequate force production, disrupted recovery and sleep, immune system depression, and even potentially fatal heart arrhythmias during intense exercise.
Multiple studies have shown magnesium to be effective for buffering lactic acid, enhancing peak oxygen uptake and total work output, reducing heart rate and carbon dioxide production during hard exercise, and improving cardiovascular efficiency. In addition, supplementation with magnesium can elevate testosterone levels and muscle strength up to 30 percent.
But unfortunately, as you learned in my Magnesium Miracle interview with Dr. Carolyn Dean, over 75% of the population is deficient in magnesium.
So if you're deficient, can you just eat more seeds, nuts, grains and vegetables (which are all sources of dietary magnesium)?
While seeds, nuts, grains and vegetables are indeed high dietary sources of magnesium, highly active people who include these foods in their diet can still be deficient in magnesium. This is due to a combination of mineral loss through perspiration and accelerated mineral turnover due to high activity levels.
Unfortunately, simply using an oral magnesium supplement will not fully replace this deficiency, as oral magnesium in the amount needed for an active individual is not easily absorbed and at high doses creates diarrhea. So while the use of oral magnesium (such as magnesium citrate powder) is certainly helpful from a supplementation standpoint, a far better way to deliver targeted doses of magnesium is through the use of topical magnesium.
(Frankly, the only thing I use oral magnesium for is to help me get to sleep.)
This is where transdermal magnesium comes in.
The delivery of drugs transdermally (through the skin) is a practice used in medicine to avoid the risk or inconvenience of intravenous therapy, to lower loss of absorption as a drug passes through the gastrointestinal tract, to lower metabolism of the drug by the liver, and to provide a more targeted application (such as a topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug delivery via patch vs. swallowing a pill).
This same practice can easily be used to deliver high doses of precisely targeted magnesium to your muscles pre or post-workout for enhancing performance and recovery. Since topical magnesium also bypasses digestion, higher doses of this key mineral can be delivered.
There are multiple ways to take advantage of transdermal magnesium delivery, but if you choose any of them, it’s still important to keep track of exactly how much magnesium you’re taking in via a combination of oral and topical use, since anything above 500-1000mg can cause loose stool or gastrointestinal discomfort.
For example, you’ve probably heard of one popular form of transdermal magnesium delivery, which is an Epsom salts bath – commonly used for decreasing muscle soreness.
Epsom salts actually deliver magnesium sulfate, which can help with post-workout recovery. However, magnesium chloride is even more effective than Epsom salts, and you can actually dissolve one to three pounds of pure magnesium chloride flakes or crystals in a bath for an extremely relaxing and soreness relieving soak.
A magnesium chloride flakes bath will deliver about 500mg of magnesium. Alternatively, if you don't want to hop in a full bath, after a long run or ride, you can simply soak your feet in a magnesium chloride footbath.
Topical magnesium chloride is also available for use via a spray application, and I personally use 8-10 sprays each on my shoulders, arms and legs prior to a race or hard workout, and do the same post workout.
In most cases, 10 sprays will deliver approximately 100mg of magnesium. Some people may find that topical magnesium spray causes a tingling or slightly annoying burning sensation. This is normal, and usually subsides with use. For more usage tips, I contacted Ancient Minerals, who makes the magnesium oil I use, and this is what they said:
“Yes, the concentration of the magnesium chloride in the product can cause a tingle (or itchiness) with some individuals, partly due to the vasodilation of capillaries on the skin (magnesium is a vasodilator). An effective application time is about 20 minutes. Our best recommendation for application on those sensitive to the product, is to apply over the arms/legs/torso liberally, left on for 20 minutes, and then rinsed in the shower. It is particularly convenient if timed with your typical shower. A moisturizer is recommended after rinsing off, if you experience dryness. Also worth mentioning is that if you allow the product to dry completely on the skin, you are no longer absorbing the magnesium ions since it needs moisture as a means of transport.”
If you use sports massage therapy, you can give magnesium chloride spray or oil to your massage therapist for use during your session. A magnesium sports massage can assist with the body’s natural recovery process and speed up healing from a workout or injury, as well as help prevent future injuries from sore and stiff muscles. Finally, if you have a strain or sprain, topical magnesium can be used to improve circulation or decrease pain – simply spray the magnesium on a sore area and rub it in.
If you found this topic interesting and want to learn more about both oral and topical magnesium use, you should listen to this fascinating interview with Dr. Mark Sircus: “Learn the Shocking Truth About The Single Most Powerful Compound That Pharmaceutical Companies Don’t Want You to Know About“.
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