Trust Your Body: My Experience with Magnesium

By Elizabeth Emery

While talking about vitamins might not sound the most interesting, I must tell this story about magnesium, because it’s fascinating both scientifically, as well as for me personally. Plus, there’s a moral to the story beyond the obvious: get the magnesium you need.

For a long time, my legs have felt terrible. Not wanting to use the word pain, I ended up with a description of uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I wasn’t sleeping well. Getting up from the couch was a strain and difficult for anyone nearby to witness. I continued to bike, run, and generally stay physically active, but great workouts were rare. Rest, stretching, and massage had little to no impact. The type of workout did not change the level of discomfort. I soldiered on.

During a recent, particularly bad night, unable to fall asleep for hours and flip flopping like a fish on the bed, I wondered if nutrition or food sensitivities were the cause. For dinner that night we ate pasta, vegetables, and lots of grated parmesan. Was it the gluten or dairy?

The next morning, I asked for an opinion from Dr. Kirstin Lauritzen, who specializes in nutrition for female athletes. She replied with several things to consider, including the possibility of low magnesium levels. To address that, at her suggestion, I took an Epsom bath. (I did not know that Epsom salt is magnesium.) Immediately, I felt relief, and quickly returned to the store to purchase topical magnesium, which is available as a gel, lotion, or oil.

The above bathing and shopping occurred on a Friday afternoon in mid-September. I was signed up for a 15K trail race the next morning. When I woke up on Saturday, my legs felt better than they had in a long while. I rubbed more magnesium oil on them and off we went. Warm-up was easy and without the sluggish awkwardness I’d become accustomed to. The race was super fun and the length, my greatest concern, wasn’t an issue. Post-race, though, the leg discomfort was back. I concluded that during the run, I had used up all my stored magnesium. My training and heart rate monitor app listed this trail run as my second fastest 10 miles. I remember the fastest run well. It was only a year ago and I had felt strong and fast and completely able to work hard throughout. What happened in that year?!

Trying to connect the dots and discover what happened, I remembered swapping the fueling powder I used during bike rides and long runs to one with more calories. With a bit of investigation, I found the invoice for the new drink mix dated January 6, 2020. The first mention of leg discomfort in my app was on January 16th. A bit more looking showed that the new powder has no magnesium while the old one does!

Now back to using the old drink mix, my legs are much better, although it does feel as if my body is still trying to restock its depleted stores. In just ten days since adding magnesium back into my life, I am sleeping more, rise from the couch easily, can once again climb stairs without hoisting myself upwards on the handrail, and, not surprisingly, am more cheerful.

I promised a moral to this personal account. Here it is. During the nine months of leg discomfort (yes, nine months!), I had attributed the issue to old age (I’m 57), to genetic disposition to arthritis, and to side effects of perimenopause. Meanwhile, my poor body was simply crying out for what it needed to perform as I ask it to. Of course, there are negative physical changes associated with aging. However, not every body issue we experience as older athletes is caused by age. For decades, it was thought that aging reduced strength when in actuality, we now know that older people mostly lose muscle mass when they don’t use their muscles. Going forward, I want to remember to be kind to my body, trust its intelligence, and be thankful for its strength. More than that, I encourage all us women of every level to keep thinking of ourselves as capable athletes as we continue playing, training, competing year after year achieving wonderful accomplishments and rising above whatever setbacks hit us.

About elizabeth emery

Elizabeth Emery is a former professional cyclist and current producer and host of Hear Her Sports podcast. In the '90s, she raced bicycles professionally, traveling all over the country and the world. She won the US Time Trial National Championship, a gold medal in the Pan American Games, the Pan American Championships, and the Tour of Japan. She raced in The Tour de France for many years when it was called The Grand Boucle and placed 5th in the World Championships for Team USA.