I alternate between different types of workouts during the year. Some of the year is about building strength (how much I can lift). Some of the year is dedicated to power (how much I can lift as quickly as possible). This winter I’ve chosen to concentrate on hypertrophy (muscle size).
There are at least 3 components to building muscle in the gym:
Volume. Specifically, the number of sets per muscle group per week creates a more dramatic result. However, there seems to be a relationship to more sets/reps throughout the week, rather than blowing your wad all in one day. Repeatedly hitting a muscle group through the week, without exceeding the minimum effective dose, seems to be better.
Muscle fiber recruitment. The more muscle fibers you recruit, the better. This is especially true for building muscle (rather than strength training). Done right, increased volume and training to failure or near failure recruits more muscle fibers. Rest and good form are the keys to muscle fiber recruitment.
Rest. This is hugely important. Often you’ll see guys rep to failure to get that “pump” in the gym, then quickly turn around and do it again. You’ll also see their volume decreases as each set is attempted (remember: increased volume recruits more muscle fibers). What they fail to realize is that the “pump” is actually their body’s response to the trash that’s built up in their muscles during a set. The body floods the area with blood to flush the lactic acid build up. If you don’t give your body enough time to flush the waste products from the muscle, it can’t perform to its maximal potential. To get the biggest bang for your buck, take as much rest time as you need so that you can perform each set to the full rep target. For me, it’s almost always 3 minutes.
My workout achieves four goals for me:
It’s fairly balanced across muscle groups.
It places a high value on leg work. Hip and leg strength are important for me; you may want to place emphasis on a different priority.
It includes aerobic as well as high intensity work.
Even though it’s a five day workout, it’s structured so that recovery is built-in.
Personally, I’m loving this. Since I started in November 2018 (It’s January 2019 as I write this) I’ve added 7 pounds of non-Christmas weight to my frame. I’m not experiencing burn out. And although I’m pretty sore after most workout days, the recovery period allows me to hit it hard each time I enter the gym. I’m a fan of this one!
You can download the workout here: Winter 2018 Hypertrophy Workout. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments, below.
Zinc is a micronutrient that is essential for your health. Zinc has been linked to a host of conditions (1) but for us middle-aged guys there are some specific reasons to supplement, like age-related vision loss, colon and rectal tumors, depression, muscle cramps, protein synthesis, and testosterone production(2).
As an athlete and middle-aged man with steadily decreasing testosterone and sarcopenia (age-related muscle shrinkage), the protein synthesis and testosterone production benefits are enough for me.
Sources of Zinc
Zinc is not something that is made in, or stored by, your body, so you’ve got to get it from an external source, either from food or by supplements. Food sources of zinc include oysters (super high in zinc) and beef, then in lower amounts in legumes, chicken and pork.(3)
When it comes to supplements, there are (at least) two things to take into consideration:
Zinc as a gluconate has a couple of advantages over other zinc supplements. First, apparently many zinc supplements frequently contain cadmium as well because they two are “chemically similar and found together in nature”. When zinc is processed as zinc gluconate it contains lower levels of cadmium(1). Second, gluconates are often absorbed by the body easier than other methods, like zinc oxide.(4) (That’s why I also take magnesium as a gluconate as well).
ZMA (zinc, magnesium aspartate, and B6) is a combination that has a controversial past. In 2000 the Journal of Exercise Physiology published a study(5) that showed that when a group of NCAA football players took a formulation of ZMA their free testosterone increased 30% (wow!) along with increases in growth hormone. However, the company who made the ZMA supplement also sponsored the study (conflict of interest), and subsequent studies haven’t been able to replicate the findings.
Final Thoughts on Zinc
It’s important to note that while doing the research on zinc supplementation I found several studies and statements across sites that said that most Americans and Europeans weren’t deficient in zinc. You can (and probably should) be tested for zinc levels during your annual checkup.
With that said, here is how and why I supplement: Since zinc is not produced or stored by the body, it’s essential that we get it from outside sources. Our bodies also use more zinc or flush zinc depending on our activity level. For instance, zinc loss happens as we sweat and our need for zinc increases if our body is under certain stresses. As an athlete I beat my body up five days a week. I sweat buckets and damage my body through heavy resistance and interval training, and occasional rugby games and practices. With that in mind, I supplement primarily on days when I’ve had a physically grueling workout. It’s typical for me to supplement with 50mg before bed on Monday/Wednesday/Friday because they’re heavy lifting days, or after a rugby match. Otherwise, on running or interval training days or weekend recovery days, I won’t supplement.
Finally, I’ve been waiting for my magnesium and zinc supplements to run low so that I can do a round of ZMA supplementation. If I’m already taking these two minerals, then I don’t see the harm in replacing my current regimen with ZMA to see if I notice a difference. (Of course, it will be subjective since I won’t be getting blood work done during the trial).
Do you take a zinc supplement? If so, what kind and why? Share in the comments below.
Creatine is a chemical that is found in your body, in both muscle and brain tissue. It’s one of the most studied performance-enhancing supplements on the market. Creatine is used during energy production for activities that are short, explosive, powerful movements like short sprints and powerlifting that last 10-15 seconds. When plenty of creatine exists in your body, you’re able to refuel that energy system quicker and more often after those explosive bouts of exercise.
Why Take A Creatine Supplement?
I’ve already hinted at the answer to this question, but it lies in your body’s ability to refuel after exercise. Your body’s natural store of creatine will only last so long: adding creatine to your diet will allow you to repeat those sprints or lifts more often, and with shorter recovery times between reps.
In contrast to the other supplements in the “Supplements After 50” series, I would categorize this supplement as an option for athletes, especially power athletes. Creatine supplementation won’t do much for a distance athlete, since long-term aerobic exercise system doesn’t rely on the ATP-PC (adenosine triphosphate – phosphocreatine) energy system.
You can supplement your creatine naturally through high protein foods like red meat, wild game, and fish such as salmon and tuna.
Creatine supplements are available as Creatine Monohydrate or “micronized” Creatine Monohydrate, with a smaller particle size for quicker uptake. Most supplement suppliers have some form of creatine supplement available, either as a powder or capsule. Personally, I buy mine from BulkSupplements on Amazon (Affiliate link). Several creatine supplement powders I’ve purchased in the past recommend a “loading” phase. Personally, I skip the loading phase and use a straight dose. I add it to my morning shake daily, and will cycle off for a couple of weeks after I finish a bag.
Again, this is an optional supplement for athletes. As a lifter and a rugby player, I’m engaging in some kind of explosive exercise almost every day. Maximizing every edge, especially at my age, is important. That’s why I add creatine to my diet. You may skip this altogether, depending on your exercise needs.
I use this blog to track all the funky food, nutrition and workout experiments I’m trying. I’m a firm believer in both consistency and variation in my workouts; consistency meaning it’s hard to get a feel for the success of a given method unless it’s been tried over a long-enough period of time. Variation in that muscle adapts to a given stimulus and so variation must be introduced to keep the muscle growing. So my usual workout routines last from 6-8 weeks, and then I change depending on what I think my strengths/weaknesses are in a given area, or what is going on during a given season (if I’m playing rugby).
Summer 2018 Workout
I’ve integrated the 5×5 workout into my yearly cycles for a couple of years now. Last year I tried the 1×20 workout for a cycle (you can get a copy of that here). At different times I’ve added a small amount of running or treadmill time into my workouts, but only 10-15 minutes at a time. During my 1×20 cycle I also integrated some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) on days I wasn’t in the gym.
I’m planning on playing rugby in the fall, so over the summer I’ve been training to be prepared for the physical demands of the game. It’s a huge target: increased strength, explosive power, size (hypertrophy) and aerobic capacity.
All over the place, right?
To that end, I’ve combined the best of everything, my “Greatest Hits” so to speak. They’re available in this spreadsheet, “Current_Workout_2018-07-15.xlsx“.
The spreadsheet contains 3 tabs:
Weights – A daily chart of what happens each day. Monday and Friday are “strength” days, using 5×5 as the skeleton for the workouts. Once the big lifts are out of the way, select a few accessory lifts from the “1×20” worksheet to supplement your lifts.
1×20 – Wednesday is a “light” day. Choose a broad spectrum of lifts from the 1×20 sheet for a thorough full-body workout.
Aerobic – HIIT – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are for aerobic and anaerobic systems. As an athlete in a sport with a heavy demand on my aerobic system, my goal this summer is to build my aerobic capacity. To that end, I’m running or biking two days / week, increasing my time by 5 minutes each week. I’m at almost an hour. It’s incredibly boring, but Amazon Prime and my Kindle Fire makes it doable. Thursdays are for explosive anaerobic work. Sprints are an easy way to get this work in, but often I use a combination of assault bike+weights for interval training. I’ll do 1 minute assault bike, straight into hang-cleans x 10 with as much weight as I can handle, then 1 minute of rest in between sets. Usually 6 or 7 sets kills me. Google “hiit options” or “bodyweight metcons” for more creative stuff you can do easily, at home.
Notes – The first sheet contains some basic notes to get you started.
Finally, make sure you take a day of full recovery. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s easy to over-train. In my schedule, recovery day is Sunday, but you can adjust the schedule however you want. But you must take a day off.
Give this a try. I’m super-pleased with my improvement over the summer. I haven’t gained any weight, which was a goal, but my other numbers have improved, and I don’t have a lot of fatigue, a problem I seem to run into when training heavy (like pure 5×5).
Leucine is an essential amino acid that directly influences, among other things, muscle protein synthesis (MPS). If you’ve been following this series and read the post on protein supplementation, you’ll remember that MPS is a big deal for guys as they get older. As we age, we begin losing muscle (a process known as sarcopenia). But if we’re physically active and keep our protein intake up, we can slow the process. Some studies have shown that increasing our protein intake is even more beneficial as we age. 
Because leucine assists in MPS, increasing your plasma leucine level assists in metabolizing protein and therefore building – and maintaining – muscle tissue.
Sources of Leucine
Lean meat like beef, pork or chicken is high in leucine. Dairy products, especially cheese and Greek yogurt, are generally high in leucine as well. In fact, a serving of Greek yogurt has about as much leucine as four eggs. Finally, legumes, which are also high in protein, also contain a significant amount of leucine.
You can purchase(affiliate link) a leucine supplement by itself or as a part of a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplement. Or, many protein powders contain some sort of added leucine / BCAA cocktail as well.
When To Take Leucine
Research has shown that leucine can have an affect both pre and post-workout. Because leucine seems to impede muscle breakdown during workouts, many folks take some kind of supplement either before or during workouts. And because leucine helps kick protein synthesis into high gear, often it can be taken with a protein supplement post-workout to make the most out of the anabolic response to your workout. (If you’re sucking down a protein shake post-workout, you may already be getting the leucine you need, because many protein powders contain added leucine.)
There has been some speculation that taking leucine before bedtime is helpful as well. But even though protein ingestion before bed has been proven to boost MPS, research seems to indicate that adding a leucine supplement at bedtime has no effect.  Why waste it?
If you’re looking to build and/or maintain muscle mass and strength after 50, you have to make the most of every opportunity to increase muscle protein synthesis. Resistance exercise kicks MPS into gear, added protein provides the raw materials, and leucine seems to provide the pathway. Add a leucine supplement to your pre or post-workout shake to build even more muscle.
 Matthew Stark, Judith Lukaszuk, Aimee Prawitz, and Amanda Salacinski, “Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training”. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529694/
I post a lot about workout routines I’m doing, supplements I take, routines I establish to try to stay strong, healthy and active.
This is why.
Last weekend we made a 10 hour trek to Savannah, GA to watch my 18 year old son play on a select-side college rugby team in a two-day tournament. However, when we arrived, he got sick and was essentially bed ridden for the entire time. So when you’ve driven 10 hours, and you’re stranded at a rugby tournament, what do you do?
You play rugby, of course!
I had a pair of shorts and cleats with me, so I searched around and found a couple of teams who needed players. One was an “old boys” team, the other was a combined college / men’s team. So while my son slept off his sickness, I had a great weekend playing rugby in Savannah.
When you’re healthy, when you’re strong, even at 51, you can do what you want to do, even walk-on to a rugby team.
In December I wrapped up a workout block I called the “EMOM Workout” (you can see the details here). In the spirit of experimentation, I’ve started something completely new (for me) a 1 x 20 workout.
1 x 20 Explained
1 x 20 is an established – if not well known – workout methodology made popular by Dr. Michael Yessis.* I heard about it on the Rugby Strength Coach Podcast with Chris McCormack, Director of Athletic Performance at Gardner Webb University in North Carolina. I followed up with the podcast host, Keir Wenham-Flatt about how it might work with my high-school rugby players. He recommended 1 x 20 for them, so I decided it was time to time to do some research!
In very simple terms, 1 x 20 describes a workout program where you perform 1 set of 20 repetitions of as many as 15-20 exercises that cover all the major muscle and joint groups. You perform the exercises with strict form, with weight that allows you to hit those last few reps with strict form, but difficulty nonetheless. Increase weight as the load becomes easier, if not daily. Workout as often as your body allows (I’ve seen some S & C coaches recommend 2-3 times/wk, and others as much as 5 times/week).
As you progress – which can take years – the program becomes what I would consider a more traditional strength workout: lower reps, higher weight, fewer sets.
Benefits of 1×20
Time. A couple of benefits touted by Yessis and others include the time it takes to complete a workout: fairly quick, since it’s pretty simple. Personally, I’m usually out of the gym between 45 to 60 minutes (my 3x/wk workout contains about 19 sets). Even at an hour, the 1×20 is a much more efficient use of gym time than other workouts I’ve used. Some 1×20 schemes I’ve seen include between 12-15 sets, and clock in at about 30 minutes. (Note: I often increase my recovery time between sets, which, in turn, increases my overall workout time. By moving quickly from set-to-set, you can decrease your gym time).
Connective Tissue. It’s also easier on your joints and ligaments than traditional strength workouts. Ligaments and connective tissue, because they don’t have access to a large blood flow (like muscle tissue) don’t adapt as quickly under stress. Often injury happens when you progress too quickly in weight before your connective tissue has a chance to adapt. 1×20 limits the stress placed on your connective tissue in any one movement. I can tell you from personal experience that this has been a huge benefit to me. I’ve worked with some fairly heavy loads in workouts like 5×5 (300+ lb deadlifts, 250+ lb bench press, 250 lb+ squats), and my knees, hips, back and shoulders seemed to be in a constant state of ache. Since switching to the 1×20, I’m often amazed at how pain-free I am walking up stairs, running, or jumping in every day activities.
Gainz. Although the increments are generally small, even as an experienced lifter, I have seen slow but tangible gains. There’s nothing wrong with small and incremental; if you’re looking at your health from a long-term perspective, small and incremental gains in strength, athleticism, and connective tissue health add up to big gains over time. And if you aren’t backing off because of injury or time constraints, those increases will snowball.
Drawbacks of 1×20
Effectiveness. The 1×20 system is geared toward young and inexperienced athletes. If you’re already an experienced lifter who finds gains hard to come by, 1×20 probably isn’t for you.
Pump. This may sound odd, but hear me out. I love the “pump” and soreness I get the day after a good workout. It makes me feel like I’ve done something big (although whether you’re sore the day after a workout doesn’t correlate to whether it was any more effective than a workout that doesn’t make you sore). One thing I like about 1×20 is that I’m not terribly sore after a workout, which makes it easier for me to go back to the gym the next day. But I don’t have the “pump”. My youngest son has struggled with 1×20 because he isn’t sore after a workout. He feels like it isn’t working for him, even though his numbers are consistently increasing.
Pride. Starting the 1×20 is embarrassing, or at least it was for me. Since I’ve been working at a rate of 5-8 reps for so long, hitting those last five reps between 15 and 20 was incredibly difficult when I first started. I had to drop my weight down to teeny-tiny dumbbells in many cases. I went from being a fairly remarkable gym personality to being less than average. Granted, after 8 weeks, my numbers in most sets have increased dramatically. But it takes several weeks for your body to adapt. Swallow your pride for the sake of the long-term view.
Who is 1×20 For?
I began this circuit because it was recommended for young and inexperienced athletes/lifters. I’m a high-school rugby coach, and many of my athletes have little to no gym experience. I wanted to be able to recommend a regimen for them that would allow them to make substantial gains, but not beat them up; rugby is hard enough, I don’t need my kids getting beat up in the gym. Before I made a recommendation to my kids, I wanted to try it for myself. That being said, even though I’m not a “young and inexperienced athlete”, I’ve still seen substantial strength and endurance gains over the past 8 weeks. I’ll most likely continue for another 6 weeks or so to see if I hit a limit.
If you’re an experienced lifter and find yourself over-trained or recovering from injury, I’d recommend 1×20 to get you back into training.
If you’re an in-season athlete and insist on lifting during season, 1×20 is a good way to train without overdoing it.
As a 51 year-old, I’d say 1×20 is great for older lifters who want to stay in shape, but aren’t trying to compete in any kind of master’s level power-lifting competition. It’s easy on your joints and easy to recover from.
I like 1×20. It’ll probably work its way into my training cycle once/twice a year or so. I’ve had a good response to it, and so have many S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, especially in high-school / college athletes. If it helps, here is my own, personal 1×20 routine (1×20-Workout.xlsx) (updated12/10/2018). Use it at your own risk or for your own benefit. Let me know how it works for you!
Back in September I started a workout block that was built on an upper-body / lower-body EMOM split (you can see the full workout here). The base of the workout was 3 reps of fairly heavy deadlifts, every minute, on the minute, for 10 minutes. After four minutes of rest, I then launched into 10 more minutes of heavy bench presses, 3-5 reps. I did this routine twice a week, Monday and Friday. Around this were several auxiliary movements, depending on the day. Tuesday / Thursday were aerobic or sprint days, Wednesday was a general pickup day to hit missing muscle groups, with Saturday and Sunday allotted for rest and recovery.
I’m always trying to mix up my workout routines. Your body gets in a rut when you perform the same workout day after day, week after week. Your body doesn’t need to adapt to the stress once the “routine” sets in, so mixing it up every couple of months keeps your body guessing.
I also have many different goals for my body, and different workouts target those different goals. Some workout blocks are for strength. Some are for hypertrophy (muscle size). Some are for flexibility. Some for stamina. I try to design workouts that will address my goals.
The EMOM workout was designed primarily for stamina and strength. Moving quickly, repeatedly, through a series of fairly heavy lifts elevated my heart rate and challenged me to recover in time to attack the next set each minute. Moving up in weight every week or two ensured that my body was challenged to adapt to new loads in both strength and endurance / recovery.
What Were The Results?
I kept this routine up for 8 weeks.
At the beginning of the cycle, I was energized. I felt great at the end of each workout. I’m defining “great” here as winded, tired, and “pumped”. My numbers were increasing, and in addition to my goals of strength and endurance, I could tell I was gaining some size, especially across my chest, hips and thighs.
My the end of the first month, however, I was slowing down. I wasn’t terribly motivated to get to the gym. My body was so very fatigued. Obviously I had blown my central nervous system. I dropped my Wednesday workout and used it for recovery, which helped, but there were days where I could only make it through the core workout with no auxiliary work. Increases in weight on the bar was harder to come by. By the end of 8 weeks I was done: tired, restless, fatigued. I took a full week off of lifting (but not running) to recover at the end of the cycle.
So it was a failure, right? Wrong.
How To Use The EMOM Workout
The EMOM block has earned a spot in my workout rotation. I know that it’s a block that works as a short-term program. In fact, for variation, I threw it into my workout last week. I walked away feeling absolutely invigorated (but was sore for four days).
Most likely I’ll throw this workout into my rotation at the end of a couple of other cycles, with these changes:
A maximum of 4 weeks in the block
Wednesdays off for recovery
A possible variation that doesn’t include an increase in weight through the cycle
An occasional EMOM workout in the midst of other less demanding workout cycles.
I encourage you to give it a try for a couple of weeks with the tweaks listed above. See how it works for you, then add your observations, below.
This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view the first 3 posts here, here, and here.
There are lots of reasons to take supplements. I take a bunch. Because of our diet, lifestyle, and the natural aging process, middle-aged guys like me sometimes need to fill in the gaps with supplements. Hopefully this series will help you think about the gaps you might have.
Why Take Fish Oil?
The benefits of fish oil have been studied for decades. In the ’70’s researchers noticed that Inuit people, who have a history of eating fatty meat and fish, didn’t seem to have the same coronary heart disease as would be expected. It was theorized that the fish oil in their diet protected them from heart disease. Even though that theory has largely been debunked, the research surrounding it has given us reason to continue to pursue a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil.
Fish oil, or, more specifically omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce sudden cardiac mortality (by 45%!!!) and all-cause mortality by 20%. In addition – and this is the big one for me – omega-3 fatty acids can reduce triglyceride levels by up to 30-50%.
I’ve been plagued with high cholesterol / triglycerides since I was in my 20’s. My grandfather had a terrible time with his cholesterol, leading to a series of debilitating strokes which eventually led to his institutionalization and death by age 66. Not me.
And, finally, fish oil works as a pain reliever. In an amazing series of studies, fish oil was found to be as effective as prescription NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) medications, like ibuprofen. In one study of 250 participants, “[f]ifty-nine percent discontinued to take their prescription NSAID medications for pain. Sixty percent stated that their overall pain was improved, and 60% stated that their joint pain had improved. Eighty percent stated they were satisfied with their improvement, and 88% stated they would continue to take the fish oil.” I get beat up a lot, both on the rugby field and in the gym. If I were to scarf down a handful of ibuprofen or Tylenol every time I was beat up, my stomach would look like Swiss cheese.
Sources of Omega-3
I’ve used fish oil and omega-3 almost interchangeably so far in this post, but there really is a difference. There are lots of different places to get omega-3’s, and fish oil is just one of them.
There are different types of omega-3’s as well. ALA, DHA and EPA are all forms you’ve probably seen on foods and supplements. DHA and EPA are easier for your body to work with. It’s harder for your body to work with ALA, especially plant-based. 
Fish are a great source of omega-3’s, thus the explosion of fish oil supplements. It’s always great to get what you need from your diet, rather than supplements, so if you’re a pescatarian, you’re in luck: tuna, salmon, sardines, you name it; they’re good sources of omega-3. In fact, I’ve heard Tim Ferriss tout Wild Planet Canned Sardines in Olive Oil (which itself has omega-3’s) for breakfast. Personally, I buy the multi-packs of tuna at Costco and eat them straight out of the can. And, I eat sardines with breakfast each morning.
Many nuts are high in omega-3’s. Walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seeds and cashews all contain AHA (which, again, isn’t very efficient, but helpful nonetheless). I buy large containers of cashews at Costco, and bags of walnuts at Kroger. A handful of walnuts are a part of my breakfast each morning, and I carry a handful of cashews with me during the day to snack on.
A lot of dairy products either come with omega-3 fatty acids naturally, or have it added during packaging / production. Eggs, milk and yogurt often contain modest amount of omega-3’s.
Also, leafy vegetables in the brassica family such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli contain omega-3’s.
Finally, if your diet isn’t providing what you want you can take a supplement. There’s a lot of “snake oil” fish oil supplements out there, so be careful what you buy. One concern is the mercury level found in fish, and its concentration in fish oil supplements. Labdoor has a nice comparison chart over at https://labdoor.com/rankings/fish-oil . Bodynutrition.org has another chart available at https://bodynutrition.org/fish-oil/.
Personally, due to affordability and accessibility, I use the Costco 1200 mg “One Per Day” fish oil (Amazon affiliate link http://amzn.to/2BW77EE). I take two per day, however.
First of all, this is the part where I tell you I’m not a nutritionist or dietician; I’m just telling you what I do for my health. Your mileage may vary.
Second, it’s been a while since I’ve had any blood work done, so it’s hard for me to give you any kind of before / after comparison after I started taking fish oil.
I can tell you that I don’t take ibuprofen any more for pain. I can also tell you that I’m confident that I’m doing what I can to keep my triglycerides in check, outside of taking a statin drug. The next time I have a checkup (hopefully first quarter of 2018) I’ll let you know.
Are you taking any kind of omega-3 supplement? If so, what?
This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. The first two posts are here and here.
Magnesium is a recent addition to my supplement regimen. If you’re like me, you mindlessly take a daily multi-vitamin, expecting that your “recommended daily allowances” are in that horse pill. Just like we discovered with vitamin D, if you’re over 50, you may not be getting all the magnesium you need, even in one of those “Silver” multi-vitamins.
Why Take Magnesium?
I had heard lots of folks online talk about magnesium (and you know everything you read on the Internet is true!). But it wasn’t until my chiropractor suggested I take it that I took it seriously. At the time I was recovering from a particularly nasty shoulder injury after a tough week of rugby. My muscles were in knots, and we were trying to get them to release some of the tension they were holding. That’s when he suggested I take a supplement. As it turns out, magnesium plays a major role in muscle function, including its ability to contract and relax. Theoretically, then, supplementing an deficient athlete’s magnesium intake could affect performance and recovery.
Magnesium plays a role in plenty of bodily functions, but here are some reasons why I take it:
Exercise recovery – A 2006 study stated “Magnesiumsupplementation or increased dietary intake of magnesium will have beneficial effects on exercise performance in magnesium-deficient individuals”. See comments, above.
Better sleep – I struggle with sleep quality, and have for years. Although the reasons aren’t entirely known, magnesium improves several indicators of good sleep. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study (the gold standard) in 2012 by the Faculty of Nutrition and Food Technology, Tehran, Iran  concluded that supplementation improved “sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin, and serum cortisol, in elderly people”.
Increased testosterone – I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but testosterone production decreases in men as they age. Yet it’s one of those elements that makes men – well – men! Although many of my peers have decided to start hormone therapy, I’m holding off as long as possible. Magnesium seems to affect testosterone levels. A 2010 study “show[ed] that supplementation with magnesium increases free and total testosterone values in sedentary and in athletes”. Add that to my regimen!
Insulin sensitivity – Again, I’ve written about this before. In a family where both sides are passing me an inclination towards diabetes, I’ll try anything to stave it off as long as I can. A randomized double-blind study by the Medical Research Unit in Clinical Epidemiology in Mexico determined that insulin sensitivity was improved with oral magnesium supplementation.
Other – Other conditions magnesium is known for improving include inflammation (in adults older than 51), depression (especially in younger adults), and bone health (by increasing the efficiency of calcium uptake).
Update (September 21, 2018) The journal Open Heart published a very long and detailed report on hypomagnesemia (low magnesium) in its January 13, 2018 issue. It goes far beyond what I can cover. Download the PDF here.
Natural Sources of Magnesium
First of all, let me say that before trying to supplement with magnesium that you should consult your doctor. As always in life, too much of a good thing can turn out to be bad.
The US RDA for magnesium is 420 mg/day for men 31 years old and up.
Natural sources of magnesium include green, leafy vegetables (like spinach or chard), nuts (a cup of sliced almonds has around 250 mg), yogurt or kefir, and black beans.
If you go the oral supplementation route, you have several choices, but let me share my experience in hunting down the best I could find and afford.
Off the shelf at your local grocery or pharmacy you’ll find two main magnesium supplements available: magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide. I had a terrible time tolerating these. If you don’t recognize it, magnesium citrate is the stuff you get before having a colonoscopy. It induces explosive diarrhea. Most people don’t want that.
Magnesium oxide is better absorbed by your body than magnesium citrate, but it’s still not an incredibly efficient source of magnesium. In addition, I still had considerable stomach issues taking it. It’s probably the cheapest magnesium supplement on the shelf, however, so some people may opt for this based on price.
I finally landed on magnesium glycinate. Because of the way the magnesium is combined with the amino acid glycinate, it is easily absorbed and also gentle on the stomach. However, it’s also the most expensive formulation I found. My first batch was from Metagenics ($25.95 for 120 100 mg tablets). I am now testing Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium (Amazon affiliate link). It’s a little different formulation, but is still easy on my stomach at this point, and it’s a bit less expensive than the Metagenics ($14.60 for 240 200 mg tablets).
Are you taking a magnesium supplement? Why? Which one? Chime in below and let us know.