Updated: Mar 24, 2022
Magnesium is a very important macro `major’ mineral that is required daily by our bodies in quite substantial amounts. Yet it is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world and a deficiency of magnesium the `relaxing mineral' can lead to a number of health complaints, especially in relation to stress, sleep problems, cramps, and energy levels.
Children are just as at risk of magnesium deficiency as adults, especially sporty kids, and teenagers who spend hours a week competing and doing strenuous training. I have personal experience with this as my son who is 13 is a competitive gymnast. He has to complete 12 hours a week of gymnastics training a week in addition to his college sports and PE. I usually do ensure he takes magnesium as, like most people, he does not get enough from his diet. I have admittedly dropped the ball with this as of late and he has been complaining on and off of having a sore neck and sore feet. He suffers from anxiety and OCD and this does get a lot worse when he doesn’t get enough magnesium and he struggles to wind down at night for sleep.
As a gymnast, my son is especially vulnerable to magnesium deficiency and as he has been doing gymnastics since he was 8, I am wondering whether his anxiety could be linked to him just not getting enough magnesium. `Athletes participating in sports requiring weight control (e.g., gymnastics, wrestling) are especially vulnerable to an inadequate magnesium status’ (1)
So why is magnesium so important?
Magnesium is involved in over 300 metabolic and enzymatic functions in the body. So, when a person is deficient in magnesium, they effectively have 300 metabolic functions that are not working efficiently. This ultimately leads to dysfunction and disease as the body struggles to maintain homeostasis (a healthy balance) without this important mineral.
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) according to the `Nutrient Reference Values of Australia and New Zealand' (2) are:
9 - 13 years (boys and girls) - 240mg per day
14 - 18 boys - 410mg per day
14 - 18 girls - 360mg per day
Some common signs that your sporty kid or teenager might be deficient in magnesium:
Frequent headaches and migraines (also check for dehydration)
Muscle cramps and twitches (e.g., eyelids), restless legs, growing pains
Anxiety, tension, irritability
Insomnia and difficulty falling asleep
Hyperactivity, inability to relax
Abnormal heart rhythm and palpitations
Low energy and fatigue
Chronic constipation, nausea
So why are we so deficient in magnesium?
The soils in New Zealand are deficient in magnesium (amongst other important minerals such as selenium and iodine) in addition 80% of magnesium is lost through food processing. Foods that are good sources of magnesium such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and leafy greens are not consumed enough in the modern diet, especially by children and teenagers.
Sporty kids and teenagers have higher magnesium needs
Compounding the problem of inadequate dietary intake is the fact that sporty kids and teenagers have a higher need for magnesium because a lot of magnesium is excreted through sweat and more is used up for energy production, carbohydrate and fat metabolism, protein synthesis, and the healing of muscles. `Physical exercise may deplete magnesium, which together with a marginal dietary magnesium intake may impair energy metabolism, muscle function, oxygen uptake and electrolyte balance’ (3) So basically, the more active you are the more magnesium you need. `Strenuous exercise apparently increases urinary and sweat losses that may increase magnesium requirements by 10 -20%’ (4)
If we are also experiencing stress of any kind, whether physical, mental, or emotional, more magnesium is used up by the body, so our requirement for magnesium also increases.
Good food sources of magnesium are almonds, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy greens (kale, spinach) bananas, chickpeas, beans, shrimp, raw cacao, and dark chocolate. So, try and encourage your sporty kid or teenager to eat as much of these foods as possible.
Here are the top food sources of magnesium (5):
Pumpkin Seeds - 168mg for a 28g serve
Almonds - 80mg for a 28g serve
Spinach - 78 mg per half a cup serve
Cashews - 74 mg per half a cup serve
Dark Chocolate - 50 mg per 28g serve of 60 - 69% cacoa
Avocado - 44mg
Banana (1 medium) - 32mg
If your child or teenager is eating a lot of these magnesium-rich foods and still have some of the symptoms listed above then they may benefit from an additional magnesium supplement that has magnesium glycinate, aspartate, or citrate as these are the better-absorbed types of magnesium. Where possible avoid supplements with magnesium oxide as absorption is very low, so it is not great at increasing magnesium levels, but it does, however, work well as a laxative for constipation.
The supplement I am giving my son is Clinician’s Magnesium 625, which is the highly bioavailable magnesium aspartate complex. Children age 9 and over can take 1 capsule a day. I give my son 2 capsules a day and they are quite small capsules so are easy to swallow. The capsules can be opened up and added to smoothies or yogurt if your child is unable to swallow capsules.
Epsom salt baths
After his 4-hour evening sessions of gymnastics, my son has been benefiting from having Epsom salts baths to help relax his muscles and absorb some magnesium through his skin. Epsom salts are made from the minerals magnesium and sulfate which have a number of health benefits and are absorbed directly into the skin so you notice the effects straight away.
Magnesium, in particular, is very calming and relaxing to the nervous system and muscles so is very good as a de-stress at the end of a tough training session.
To take an Epsom salts bath dissolve 250g (1 cup) into a warm bath (not too hot) and soak for 12 - 15 minutes. It is recommended to do this 1 - 3 times a week for maximum benefits. Epsom salts are available in pharmacies, health shops, and supermarkets and cost a mere $2 for a 500g bag. It is recommended to drink some water before an Epsom salt bath as you can get a little thirsty.
So now that my son has increased his magnesium through diet (as much as possible for a teenager!), supplementation, and regular Epsom salt baths, many of his symptoms are starting to improve which is what encouraged me to write this blog post. If your sporty child or teenager is having muscular pains, twitching, hyperactivity, anxiety, sleep issues, and fatigue it may be worth looking at their magnesium intake.
(1 and 4) - Nielson F, Lukaski H, Update on the Relationship between Magnesium and Exercise. Magnes Res, 2006, Sept 19 (3) 180 – 189
(2) Nutrient Reference Values of Australia and New Zealand - www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/magnesium
(3) – Laines M J, Monteiro C Exercise, Magnesium and Immune function Magnes Res 2008, Jun 21 (2) 92 – 96.
(5) Magnesium Rich Foods, sourced from www.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15650-magnesium-rich-foods