It doesn’t really mater what kind of athlete you are, casual gym goer or endurance – there’s no getting away from the post workout ache, feeling like you’ve suddenly aged 40 years or the sideways walking up an down the stairs after an intense leg session.
With my #PACE140 challenge underway and the increasing training load as I work towards the Race Across America in 2022, I’m keen to make sure I manage the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) as best I can. I’ll be honest, I’m not the best at always taking time to focus on proper recovery – life is busy and often I’m off the bike straight on to something else.
DOMS is not always avoidable, but it can certainly be managed by taking the time to warm up before and cool down after exercise and by ensuring you make gradual increases in the amount of exercise you do, basically not trying to do too much too soon. I love to (try to) include regular 20min yoga sessions in to my week, but any form of static stretching and foam rolling can be a real help to ease and release muscle tension and soreness.
But what else can we do? Surely there must be a short cut to recovering quicker?
The food we eat has a massive impact on how our bodies respond to exercise. If you’re undertaking any kind of intense session, something of an hour or more then you should eat a snack or a meal after exercise that includes carbohydrates, to replenish lost glycogen stores, and protein, as this will help to repair your damages muscle fibres. Despite what the industry says, it’s not all about protein!
So, to the point of this blog…
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in the human body, at a basic level it helps turn the food we eat in to energy.
The NHS gives us an Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 300mg for men and 270mg for women, per day. However research has shown that endurance athletes may have higher requirements as they produce more energy, use their muscles more, put a greater stress on their bones and sweat more, therefore losing higher amounts of magnesium (through sweat) as they do so.
Back to diet – magnesium is easily obtained through a balanced diet and is rich in certain foods including nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. So we can quite easily get everything we need from our diets, providing we ‘eat the rainbow’.
Supplementing your diet can be necessary or desired, if you are deficient or as mentioned previously where you have additional needs. Magnesium supplements can be found in most supermarkets and specialist retailers, but not all supplements are the same!
If you do decide to supplement with magnesium, choose a form that is well absorbed like magnesium citrate, magnesium malate or magnesium glycinate. It’s really important, if you are going to supplement, that you chose well because if they are not absorbed in to your system (their Bioavailability) then they are a great way to waste money! I use the supplements from Reflex Nutrition because they have 80% bioavailability and use chelated minerals, both of which mean your body is taking in more of the nutrients from the tablet. If it’s not bioavailable, your not getting the benefit!
The second important point on supplementing is to know how much you are taking. The NHS (in the UK) and nutritionists suggest you should avoid taking any more than 400mg of magnesium per day (remembering to consider both your dietary intake as well as supplements) as over supplementing could result in some undesirable consequences, think loose stools or short term diarrhoea which are not exactly an athletes best friend.
Absorption through the skin
If you experience muscle soreness after exercise and find it hard to recover quickly enough, it may be worth trying a form of magnesium that can apply directly to the affected areas, like your legs, as it is quickly absorbed through the skin.
There’s plenty of options in the market, from creams to sprays – I’ve used a Magnesium Oil Spray from Holland & Barrett before. This is essentially a pure, supersatured form of magnesium which you spray on to wet or dry skin and massage in. This can produce a tingly effect on the skin, but can be highly effective in quickly boosting mineral levels.
Magnesium can also be found in shower gels and bath salts too, meaning you start the recovery process straight off the bike or after a run or gym session. I’ve used the Body Recovery Shower Gel from FitKit (https://www.fitkitbodycare.com/product-page/body-recovery-shower-gel) before (as well as the others in the range) and found it to be excellent, it’s a super easy way to start the recovery process, massaging the gel in to your legs and shoulders while showering. FitKit is also British made, vegan friendly and cruelty free all of which make it a great choice irrespective of the benefits to your exercise regime.
In summary, magnesium is a nutrient that you need to be aware of as an endurance athlete and to support your recovery. Of course, it is just one piece of a wider puzzle of recovery and general health & fitness.
Share your recovery tips below, I’d love to hear what you use or do to keep your body going!