How I Replenish Magnesium Levels: The Most Effective Ways to Ensure You Are Getting Enough of this Essential Mineral

by Charles Poliquin

In the past 13 years, I have yet to see a first-time client with acceptable magnesium levels. One reason is that all of these clients were lifting weights, and resistance training increases magnesium requirements. But even if you’re not an athlete, the chances that you’re deficient in this mineral are pretty high. And this begs the question “How much magnesium do you need each day?”

During World War II the U.S. National Academy of Sciences created a committee to investigate the effects of nutrition on national defense. In 1942 this committee, the Food and Nutrition Board, established Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for specific nutrients to meet the requirements of up to 98 percent of the population. These requirements have been revised 11 times, and at present here is what the U.S. government recommends for magnesium:

Nice table – but most functional medicine practitioners agree that at least 500 mg of supplemental magnesium must be taken daily for optimal health. Respected functional medicine researcher Dr. Mark Houston and I have found even this dose to be far too low; instead, the best approach is a daily dosage of 1,200 mg for adult women and 2,000 mg for adult men. With these baselines established, the next question is “Can I fulfill my magnesium requirements from food?”

Unless you do the majority of your grocery shopping at 7-Eleven, many of the foods you probably consume on a regular basis contain magnesium. There are many free nutrition charts on the Internet, such as the one offered on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website that enables you to assess the nutrient profiles of 13,000 foods. Here are a few of the foods that are cited as excellent sources of magnesium:

90 mg: Halibut, cooked, 3 ounces
80 mg: Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce
75 mg: Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce
75 mg: Spinach, frozen, cooked, ½ cup
50 mg: Potato, baked w/skin, 1 medium
45 mg: Yogurt, plain, skim milk, 8 fluid ounces
40 mg: Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked, ½ cup
30 mg: Banana, raw, 1 medium
25 mg: Raisins, seedless, ½ cup packed
24 mg: Whole milk, 1 cup

Before doing any math, you have to consider that these numbers should come with an asterisk. In January clinical nutritionist Dr. Robert A. Rakowski gave a special seminar at the Poliquin Strength Institute that included a presentation on the current nutrient quality of food available to consumers. Rakowski said that it takes 17 elements to make a healthy plant, but today’s common fertilizers contain only three. So whether we eat these plants or eat animals that have been eating the plants, it’s doubtful that these foods contain the nutrient levels listed on the nutrition charts.

Next, it’s important to consider that one’s activity level (especially resistance training) increases magnesium requirements and that the use of certain drugs can adversely affect magnesium levels in the body. For example, thiazide diuretics can cause more magnesium to be excreted in the urine – it also works the other way, as magnesium can interfere with the action of drugs; for example, tetracycline antibiotics have the effect of causing magnesium to bind tetracycline in the gut and thus affect the absorption of tetracycline.

Before the turn of the millennium most Americans were getting enough magnesium from their diets, but now the literature suggests that between 54 percent and 75 percent of the general population is magnesium deficient. Similar patterns of deficiency have been reported in the Western world. A survey conducted in France in the mid-1990s found that 72 percent of men and 77 percent of women obtained less than the RDA of magnesium from their diets.

When I develop a protocol for an individual, I first test for the value of red blood cell magnesium, which truly reflects the body’s magnesium stores. According to a paper published in 2004 in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, “Total body stores and serum levels [of magnesium] are poorly correlated; serum levels can be normal in the presence of low intracellular stores.” Also, “…alkalotic patients may have low serum magnesium levels without total-body magnesium deficiency, while those with acidosis may have normal serum levels despite deficient intracellular stores.”

If you’ve had blood work done, you already know that magnesium levels are expressed in milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL. Using this measurement, my goal is to bring the client closer to 6.8 mg/dL. The minimum I accept is 4.2 mg/dL, but the upper range is much better for long-term health. I advise taking magnesium three times daily for most people: post-workout and the last two meals of the day. If someone finds taking magnesium energizing and they cannot fall asleep, it is a sign of extreme deficiency; in this case the client should take the dosages earlier during the day.

The Magnesium You Need – and Deserve
The cheaper forms of magnesium use salts, which are not absorbed well by, or retained in, the tissues. The most absorbable form of minerals are chelates, but there is much more to this issue. You see, most attempts at restoring magnesium to optional levels fail because they use only one type of magnesium, especially magnesium orotate. In ÜberMag and ÜberMag Plus I don’t just use magnesium orotate, but also magnesium taurate, magnesium glycinate and magnesium fumerate. Using four types of magnesium improves absorption because each type of chelate attaches to specific tissues. By the way, the difference between my two magnesium supplements is that ÜberMag Plus contains L-tryptophan, which is helpful for those who have trouble falling asleep.

Another product I like is Topical Mag, which is applied to the skin. We found that if you combine an oral form with a topical form, it restores magnesium levels faster. It is also great for kids who don’t like to swallow tablets – I recommend rubbing it on the soles of kids’ feet before they go to bed, especially if they have trouble falling asleep.

Now let’s talk protocols. If magnesium levels are extremely low, I would use the following reload protocol until optimal levels are restored:

2 capsules Magnesium Glycinate with a post-workout drink
4 ÜberMag at dinner
4 ÜberMag with evening snack
4 pumps of Topical Mag behind the knees before bedtime

Although 50 mg of Magnesium Glycinate is contained in each capsule of ÜberMag, my Magnesium Glycinate contains 240 mg per capsule. Using this higher dosage is another way to quickly restore magnesium levels; and because it’s bound to the amino acid glycine, it will also help with detoxifying the liver.

I have a few more tips I’d like to mention. If magnesium levels are replenished slowly, particularly in menopausal women, I give them three capsules of Perfect E 3.0. Perfect E 3.0 contains the gamma-tocopherol form of this important vitamin, which is often missing in many of the inferior vitamin E formulas you find in discount department stores. A zinc deficiency and low levels of vitamin D3 can also mitigate replenishment of this vital mineral, so I often recommend Über Zinc 2.0, which contains two types of zinc for maximum absorption; and D3 Excellence, which is mixed in oil to support absorption in the intestinal tract. The results of blood work that tests for those nutrients will determine the approach to take.

This discussion may seem like overkill until you realize that magnesium is the fourth-most abundant mineral in the body and is involved in 300 essential biochemical reactions in the body. By following these recommendations you’re sure to notice improved health and athletic performance.

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Firoz M, Graber M. Bioavailability of US commercial magnesium preparations. Magnes Res 2001, 14:257-62.

Gums J. Magnesium in cardiovascular and other disorders. Am J Health-Syst Pharm 2004, 61:1569-76.

He K, Liu K, Daviglus ML, et al. Magnesium intake and incidence of metabolic syndrome among young adults. Circulation. 2006 Apr 4;113(13):1675-82.

Lindberg, J et al. Magnesium bioavailability from magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide. J Am Coll Nutr 1990, 9:48-55.

Ma B, Lawson AB, Liese AD, Bell RA, Mayer-Davis EJ. Dairy, magnesium, and calcium intake in relation to insulin sensitivity: approaches to modeling a dose-dependent association. Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Sep 1;164(5):449-58.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2003. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page,

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