10 Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency Runners Should Know

Here’s what you need to know about this important electrolyte and how it supports your health and performance.


Magnesium is an electrolyte that has been praised for everything from better sleep to boosted athletic performance. This might make you wonder if you’re consuming enough of it, especially considering you lose electrolytes through sweat.

As a runner, you want to consume enough magnesium so your body can make protein, conduct muscle and nerve functions, regulate blood sugar and blood pressure levels, and produce energy. Magnesium may also support your circadian rhythm a.k.a. your sleep and wake pattern. The body also needs this electrolyte to help with the activation of vitamin D, a key nutrient needed for bone health.

“After puberty, we’re done growing, but even up until age 30, female athletes in particular, are still developing their peak bone mass density,” says Kate Patton, registered dietitian for the Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute. Along with vitamin D and calcium, your body needs magnesium to build strong bones, so if you’re low in any of these nutrients you could be at higher risk for stress fractures, or aches and pains like shin splints, she adds.

Unfortunately, “[some] athletes actually have very low magnesium levels, despite supplementation,” says Dr Michael Yang, a sports medicine physician at Jefferson Health. College athletes and elite-level runners in particular are more likely to have lower levels of magnesium — as opposed to the typical recreational runner — because they tend to exercise more and drink more fluids, so they’re filtering more magnesium through the kidneys, Yang explains.
To find out if you need more magnesium, doctors can test your levels with a blood or urine sample at your request. But you can also keep an eye out for these symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and pay attention to your intake with the strategies below.

What are the symptoms of magnesium deficiency?
While a magnesium deficiency often doesn’t show clear signs, you may experience the following according to Patton and Yang:

Early symptoms:

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite, which can lead to vomiting
  • Slower recovery time

More serious symptoms:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness
  • Decreased immune system function
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Other heart issues like plaque formation in heart blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack
  • Low blood pressure

How much magnesium do you need?
The recommended daily allowance of magnesium for adults assigned male at birth ages 19 to 50 is 400 to 420 milligrams and for adults assigned female at birth is 310 to 320 milligrams, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). For adults over age 51, experts recommend consuming the maximum recommended amounts of magnesium because as you get older, your body’s ability to absorb the nutrient decreases, and we tend to excrete more of it, says Patton.

Also, older runners with kidney disease may be at risk, says Yang. For these populations, it’s best to consult with your primary care physician about the best way to address your magnesium needs, as everyone is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

What are the best sources of magnesium?

*Magnesium numbers per serving size, according to the NIH

  • 28 g roasted pumpkin seeds: 156 mg
  • 28 g chia seeds: 111 mg
  • 28  roasted almonds: 80 mg
  • ½ cup spinach, boiled: 78 mg
  • 28g  roasted cashews: 74 mg
  • ½ cup black beans, cooked: 60 mg
  • ½ cup edamame: 50 mg
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter: 49 mg
  • 250 ml low-fat, plain yogurt: 42 mg
  • 1 medium banana: 32 mg
  • 85  cooked salmon: 26 mg
  • 85 g roasted chicken breast: 22 mg

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Should you consider taking a magnesium supplement?
Whole foods are the best sources of magnesium, so if you have a good balanced diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and a variety of protein, or you take a multivitamin with minerals including magnesium, then you don’t have to worry about supplementation, says Patton.

The supplement comes in a variety of different forms. Though magnesium citrate is the most common form, it tends to have a laxative effect; magnesium glycinate is an alternative that’s commonly used to improve sleep and is easier on the digestive tract, Patton explains.

If you’ve been diagnosed with magnesium deficiency and are interested in supplementation, Patton recommends selecting a product that’s been certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), an independent third-party program that tests supplements, cosmetics, and personal care products for the health and safety of consumers.

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