Supplement Series: What Does Magnesium Do?

Many people have heard of magnesium, but what does magnesium do, really? Why should we worry about it? Should we supplement? These are all important questions that we’ll address in this article.

UPDATE: I was sick of not having an all-in-one night time supplement containing magnesium, so I made one. Click here to checkout Momental Mend and use code AGLOVESYOU for a nice little discount.


Magnesium is an essential mineral, and chances are that you are probably not getting enough of it. This is a critical mistake if you are an athlete trying to increase your performance, or even if you’re a human just trying to optimize your health.

There are over 300 important bodily functions that are dependent on magnesium, but the most important for performance and well being is energy production. Many processes of health are driven by the little powerhouses in your cells, which are the mitochondria. Magnesium has several extremely important effects on

CrossFit and other high intensity interval training systems have plenty of benefits, but also plenty of demands. These demands are met by ATP, the molecule your body uses for energy. To get the most out of your workouts and to increase your output and intensity, your ATP production should be as high as possible to meet the demands of your workout. If not, you will wind up fatigued, sore, and missing out on the maximum benefits of your exercise.

There are two pathways that increase ATP production to meet the demands of your workout. Both include modulating the factories in your cells that manufacture ATP – the mitochondria.The two ways to increase ATP production are:

1) Increase the total number of mitochondria

Think of increasing the total number of mitochondria as adding more factories for production of a necessary product. The more you have, the more they can do. Pretty simple.

2) Increase the efficiency of the existing mitochondria by repair

Think of this as training the workers to increase productivity in the current factories and fixing broken down machines. The better your machines run, the more production you get out of them.

Both avenues of increasing ATP production are entirely dependent on magnesium. Magnesium is required to make new mitochondria and to repair existing mitochondria. Low levels of damaged mitochondria means low levels of ATP, leading to poor performance and recovery. Not good.

Currently, 57% of the US population is not getting the US RDA of magnesium.  While that number is already alarmingly high, keep in mind that the RDA is an outdated and generally poor reference range established in the mid 1900’s. These recommendations are enough to maintain a slight margin of safety, barely above sickness and disease in an average unhealthy American.

While we can all agree that we don’t want to be sick and dying, we can also agree that we want to perform and live as optimally as possible. The percentage of magnesium deficient Americans would be much higher than 57% among athletes and individuals seeking peak performance with much higher ATP needs than the average sedentary person seeking to avoid disease.


Common food sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, some nuts, oats, wheat, and beans. However, one of the main reasons that the paleo diet excludes oats, wheat and beans is that they have anti-nutrients, called phytates. Phytates bind to the magnesium,  meaning your body can’t use the magnesium you’re eating for anything. This means low levels of ATP and suboptimal performance. It also means that if you eat a bunch of dark leafy greens but also eat oats, wheat or beans, you won’t get enough magnesium, period. Don’t eat these things.

While eating copious amounts of dark leafy greens and some nuts may be enough for the average sedentary American, it may not be enough for athletes doing CrossFit or similar high intensity activity. So what should you do? Supplement.


Not all magnesium is created equally, however. What magnesium does is entirely dependent on if your body can actually USE it.

Just like most supplements, we need to derive the mineral or vitamin from a natural source. High quality magnesium supplements use only the most absorbable and bioavailable forms of magnesium – magnesium glycinate and taurinate. This may also be noted as “chelated” magnesium. Magnesium glycinate is carried with glycine, which considerably helps the absorption and delivery throughout your body. Magnesium taurinate, which is magnesium bound to taurine, an amino acid that calms the nervous system, to further potentiate the calming effects of magnesium.

Some other magnesium supplements will use sulfates or citrates to pair with magnesium to make it stable, however that makes it much less available for your body to metabolize. Those forms are also conveniently a lot cheaper to produce. Not a surprise that’s why many companies use them. When you’re looking to buy magnesium, likely you are getting what you pay for. Spend the money on higher quality and you will get better results.


One of the side effects of taking higher levels of lower quality magnesium is gut irritation. This will clear our your digestive system pretty easily and quickly if you take too much, so don’t go too crazy. You know the laxative, milk of magnesia? Yep, magnesium is primary driver here.

If you want to keep the contents in your gut so you can digest them, don’t overdo it on magnesium.


After buffering mitochondrial production, one of the important things that magnesium does is binds to GABA receptors in the brain and activates this important neurotransmitter. GABA is somewhat of a neural tranquilizer that helps the body calm and relax in preparation for sleep. This is one of the reasons why it is recommended to take magnesium at night time.

Quality sleep is highly critical, especially if you are a hard charging athlete that needs recovery.


  • Your mitochondria make ATP, which is energy for your body

  • You need ATP and high intensity exercise

  • You need magnesium to make new and repair existing mitochondria

  • You’re probably NOT getting enough magnesium in your diet

  • You should probably supplement with magnesium and eat a lot of micronutrient dense foods

  • Take magnesium at night

  • Take magnesium in chelated forms, with glycine and taurine carriers

Are you supplementing with magnesium? Which brand? Which form? Do you take it with anything else? Let me know in the comments below! Click below to share this article if you liked it!

UPDATE: I was sick of not having an all-in-one night time supplement containing magnesium, so I made one. Click here to checkout Momental Mend and use code AGLOVESYOU for a nice little discount.