Maximize your Athletic Performance by Optimizing Mitochondria with Magnesium

In this post, we’ll delve into how optimizing your magnesium (Mg) levels, an essential mineral that 35-55% of the Canadian population is deficient in, can help you maximize your mitochondria which will in turn, enhance your athletic performance.

Why are we concerned about mitochondrial health??

Your mitochondria are what give you energy through the process of oxidative phosphorylation – the consumption of oxygen to generate ATP, the energetic currency of your cells. Mitchondria supply fuel to every single type of cell in your body, from muscle to neuron, to keep your cells functioning at their best. Your mitochondrial health is strongly tied to your fitness both in terms of physical performance and even longevity. It is your mitochondria that provide nourishment during injury to speed up wound healing and recovery

What is Mg & Why do we need it?

Mg is an essential mineral that must be ingested as the body does not endogenously produce it.  It is a key cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions.  Simply put, if Mg is NOT available, then the body is unable to produce and function at an optimal level.

How do we get Mg?

Dietary Mg is found in the chlorophyll of plant cells.  As such, any time we eat green, leafy plants, we are ingesting Mg.  Most people get around 200-300 mg/day BUT they should be getting a bare minimum of 400/mg/day.  These minimum recommendations are given by Health Canada and are the bare minimum recommended levels to avoid serious health related problems.  Notice I said bare minimum, not optimized.

Oxidative capacity or “ability to consume oxygen”
:  High-intensity interval training (HIIT), seen in  a typical CrossFit workout, has repeatedly proven to be an excellent way to improve exercise performance in both non-athletes and athletes.  One of the ways HIIT improves performance is by increasing oxidative capacity. Oxidative capacity is a term that refers to the ability of muscle to utilize (or consume) oxygen. Oxidative capacity not only depends on the availability of oxygen (this is what most people focus on) but also critically relies on your mitochondria, which are the tiny units inside your muscle cells that actually consume oxygen and produce ATP in the process. This is a critical point that should not be minimized: it’s ultimately the abundant production of ATP that enhances performance and prevents muscle fatigue.

At the level of the mitochondria, there are two ways in which studies have shown you can enhance your oxidative capacity:

1   Boost your mitochondrial mass (increase quantity): Studies have shown that even just one session of HIT results in mitochondrial biogenesis (the production of new mitochondria) within muscle cells.  Herein lies the problem: remember how I mentioned that 56% of people in the U.S. are deficient in magnesium? In order to produce new mitochondria each of your existing mitochondria have to synthesize their genome anew (yes, mitochondria have their own genome) and this depends on enzymes that require magnesium as a cofactor to do just that. If your magnesium levels are inadequate, then your ability to boost mitochondrial number during HIT will be dampened, thus, compromising performance and the mitochondrial mass you would have otherwise gained as a consequence of your hard work and effort.

2   Maximize the efficiency of your existing mitochondria (increase quality):  It is well known that intense exercise induces oxidative stress and damage to your mitochondria, which dampens their ATP production (translation: lower oxidative capacity). But, your mitochondria have the ability to repair damage done to them using the same magnesium-dependent enzymes that I just mentioned.  This means that if adequate levels of magnesium are not maintained (e.g. you’re part of the 35-55%), your oxidative capacity will suffer because of a decline in the rate of repair of your existing mitochondria 

Increasing your magnesium levels
:  The role magnesium plays in mitochondrial health is only one of a multitude of reasons why you should routinely get your magnesium levels tested. When in doubt you should increase your consumption of dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale or almonds, which are all high in magnesium.

In the next segment, we’ll do a deeper dive into the cause of magnesium deficiencies, what we can do to increase absorption, and the benefits and drawbacks of supplementation vs. food sources


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