Magnesium – My Dirty Mistress

Magnesium… Oh, magnesium. You’re the one I love to hate. Hate to love. Zac Brown said it best:

And I love you but I leave you
I don’t want you but I need you
You know it’s you who calls me back here, baby

Of course, he was singing about a girl. And I’m singing about magnesium.

So, how did my magnesium get so depleted? I’m not sure. For a long time on and off, I’d randomly get charley horses. In high school I’d occasionally get them in my calves, but more commonly the arches of my feet, during volleyball “hell week.” That was likely mineral depletion due to long practices, tons of sweating in an un-air conditioned gym, and over-working my muscles suddenly.

I don’t really remember getting charley horses in my calves regularly until I moved out on my own. That was around the same time I started working out regularly. So I probably was simply sweating out my electrolytes. I could generally rebalance and go on if I drank sports drinks or ate bananas or the other clichéd stuff about muscle cramps.

But a few years ago I had a bunch of stuff happen all of a sudden.

  1. In June 2011, I got dehydrated for the first time in my life. I’m still surprised it happened. And it was horrible.
  2. That summer I did a lot of bike riding in the heat. I was riding my bike to get a workout because my muscles were cramping when I’d try to run.
  3. I had occasional charley horses from then on. I started taking more magnesium. I drank sports drinks all the time. I’d eat more potatoes and bananas. I ate more sea salt. I ate more carbs. I ate less carbs. Nothing really seemed to work.
  4. My muscles would start cramping during the warmup of my workout. I’d stop and stretch multiple times just during the warmup. Most of the time I’d get frustrated or just plain couldn’t do the workout, so I’d quit for the day. And I’d try but fail at workouts more often than not.
  5. My joints started aching all the time. I felt a lot older than I was.
  6. I was always tired. I felt like it was depression, but didn’t feel depressed.
  7. My head was foggy. Sleep was erratic. I’d lay in bed for hours and hours. Then I’d wake up 10-15 times per night.
  8. Finally I decided to cut back on working out all together since I was frustrated. And really worked on my “sleep hygiene.”
  9. I started taking magnesium. I researched different types. Bought all kinds. But my charley horses persisted, and became more frequent.
  10. Charley horses turned into multiple every night. So my calves were always really sore the next day until they turned into a perpetual state of tight. Around the same time my occasional irregular heartbeat problem became a daily thing.
  11. This past summer I went on a long bike ride, and was really sore. I bought some magnesium oil as another attempt at finding a new ‘type’ of magnesium. I sprayed it on my sore muscles. It was like magic. I’m not kidding. Pain went from nearly intolerable to almost not noticeable. I knew the root of my problem was magnesium.
  12. In the meantime I had been taking a decent amount of vitamin D. (5,000-20,000 IU a few times a week.)
  13. I found out I was allergic to magnesium. I got an AAT treatment for it.
  14. Suddenly any type of magnesium worked. The nightly charley horses stopped. My irregular heartbeat also went away completely.
  15. I spent all my free time foam rolling/mobilizing my calf muscles, but they’d never loosen up. Walking even short distances led to bad cramping. But I still never got charley horses at night.
  16. In an attempt to get off of diet pop (which I drank 1-3 cans per day, more often at work), I started drinking tea.
  17. It seemed I still had signs of magnesium deficiency. And some days were a lot worse than others. Some days I’d be so dead tired, and not only would my muscles ache, but my joints would hurt like crazy. I felt like I was 115 years old.

So what gives? I’m not sure. But I think I was making a few mistakes.

  1. Vitamin D – Turns out vitamin D can deplete your body of magnesium. I was taking as much as I was because a few years ago it really, really helped me clear my head and have more energy. But that had been short-lived, and although I never saw that kind of improvement now, I kept taking it in high doses.
  2. Tea and pop – Caffeine depletes magnesium. Colas deplete magnesium. Some stuff I’ve read says tannins in tea, especially black and green can be an issue.
  3. I was taking any old kind of magnesium I could get my hands on. The cheapest kind is magnesium oxide. SO that’s the one most available. I had gone from daily sprays with mag oil to maybe once a week.

The more tired I got, the more I’d take in caffeine and take vitamin D. And the worse things seemed to get.

If it weren’t kind of sporadic, I’d probably be convinced I had fibromyalgia.

What’s the plan?

  • I’ve stopped vitamin D all together. I do think there is some need for vitamin D, as it did make a huge improvement when I first started taking it. However, maybe continually taking such high doses isn’t the best idea. My doctor told my your body hangs on to vitamin D. So maybe I’ll take 5,000 IUs once a month. Or maybe I’ll order 1,000 IU pills. I’m not sure. For now, no vitamin D.
  • I’m really going to try to limit my intake of caffeine as much as I can. I don’t think I’ll ever go without, but maybe if magnesium and vitamin D stop fighting, I’ll feel better in general and won’t rely on it as much.
  • I’m switching to magnesium glycinate. This is a chelated form of magnesium, which is supposed to be more readily absorbed. I’m going to take 2 times the daily value (which is four pills), and I’m going to take it throughout the day rather than all at once.
  • I’m going to do magnesium oil every night before bed.
  • I’m limiting calcium supplement for the short term. I will add it back later as I move back to a normal daily supplement value. And at that point at a 1:1 ratio with magnesium.
  • I’m going to try to walk as my main form of exercise. I’ll do one higher cardio workout per week. Along with two weight lifting sessions per week. The walks will be long and slow. And with the purpose of burning calories without too much sweat loss or too much stress on the system.
  • Work isn’t too high stress right now. But when it is, I’ll take an additional 200mg of calcium.
  • I’m also going to be taking K2, which is supposed to move calcium into the bones. I have K2 at home, and never notice a difference when I do and don’t take it.

If I can get to a point where I don’t cramp when running, that’ll be the best thing that’s happened to me in three years. I miss running, but haven’t been able to do it for so long because of the cramps. Right now I can go maybe 1/4 mile if I’m lucky. I got nice and loose after months of not trying to run and made it just short of 1/2 mile. But if I tried to run again within two weeks, I’d go less than 1/4 mile before I was in horrible pain.

So, in the short term, if I can get rid of the occasional joint pain, and feeling exhausted by the time I get home from work, that will be fantastic.

Anyone else fought the battle with severe magnesium deficiency and won? I am definitely not severely deficient now. I am out of the danger zone. But can’t seem to make the jump from deficient to normal. I know it takes awhile. I’m trying to be patient. But it’s tough when your body’s betraying you!



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