Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function, heart rhythm regulation, and bone health. While this electrolyte can be obtained through a healthy diet, research shows that many people eating modern-day, processed diets don’t get enough. (After all, magnesium is found in unprocessed foods like vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.) High alcohol intake, eating over-cooked foods, and certain health conditions can also contribute to low magnesium levels.
If you’re in need of more magnesium, supplements may be incredibly helpful. However, the tricky thing about choosing a magnesium supplement is that so many types are available. Magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate—it’s enough to make your head spin.
Each type of magnesium affects us a bit differently. While some forms are most helpful for easing aches and helping us sleep, others really pack a punch for our digestive system. Use this guide to figure out which of the different types of magnesium supplements makes the most sense for your individual needs, plus when to take it for best results.
The Benefits of Magnesium
Experts believe that magnesium deficiencies are somewhat common among adults, especially those with digestive, cardiovascular, and metabolic issues. Our bodies need a steady supply of magnesium to function optimally, starting with our diet. Foods like leafy greens, chia seeds, milk, whole grains like oats, legumes, pumpkin seeds, and avocados are great sources.
Potential benefits of consuming enough magnesium:
- Support for bone health: Magnesium is necessary for proper bone formation and maintenance of bone density, and low levels of magnesium have been linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis.
- Cardiovascular support: Magnesium helps regulate heart rhythm and blood pressure.
- Assistance with mood and sleep: Many people find that magnesium has a calming effect on the body and may help improve their mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and tension. Additionally, magnesium is important for the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
- Relief from migraines: Some research suggests that magnesium may help ward off migraines.
- Help with exercise performance: Because it’s crucial for muscle function and energy production, low levels of magnesium can lead to muscle weakness and fatigue, hindering physical performance and recovery.
Who Should Supplement With Magnesium?
The recommended daily intake of magnesium depends on age, sex, and other factors, such as whether a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding. The National Institutes of Health currently suggests that adult men need up to 420 milligrams of magnesium per day, adult women need up to 320 milligrams, and pregnant and breastfeeding women need up to 400 milligrams per day. However, some experts believe that these recommended amounts may be too low for certain people.
Generally, if you suspect you’re falling short on magnesium, clinical nutritionist Rebecca Fallihee, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., recommends starting with incorporating more magnesium-rich foods into your daily eats. That said, people who have trouble with nutrient absorption, athletes, and those that are under a lot of stress usually require more magnesium, in which case incorporating supplements is a smart move.
Some signs that you’re not getting the magnesium you need include:
- Muscle cramps or restlessness
- Trouble sleeping
- Chronic stress
- Tingling or numbness
If you’re not sure where you stand on this vital mineral—and how to best proceed in upping your intake—consider checking in with a credentialed nutritionist to take stock of your diet and lifestyle.
The Best Time Of Day To Take Magnesium
Should you decide to add a magnesium supplement to your routine, when you should take it depends on the type of magnesium you’re using (which itself depends on why you want to take a supplement in the first place), says dietitian Emily Fultz, M.S., R.D.N.
Regardless of the type (and at what time of day), always take your magnesium supplement with a meal to help prevent any potential laxative effects, unless that’s the intended result. You’ll also want to avoid taking magnesium with high amounts of zinc, which can interfere with its absorption.
Types Of Magnesium You Can Take Anytime
You can generally take the following forms of magnesium at any time of day, depending on why you’re supplementing.
This type of magnesium can have a mild laxative effect and is often used to support digestion in those who experience irregularity. Though you can take magnesium citrate anytime, consider testing it out when you have easy access to a bathroom, just in case your stomach reacts strongly.
This type of magnesium is commonly found in over-the-counter antacid medications and may be used to relieve symptoms of heartburn or indigestion. Because it’s less bioavailable than other types of magnesium, it’s the most likely to send you running to the toilet, which can be a good thing if you’re having trouble going! Take it any time of day with food, Fultz suggests. And maybe consider trying it out at home versus at the office or out and about.
The Best Types Of Magnesium To Take In The Morning
The following types of magnesium supplements are best taken in the morning or earlier in the daytime.
This form of magnesium has been shown to support immune function and may also be useful for enhancing cognitive and bone health. Researchers believe magnesium l-threonate has these effects because it supports metabolic pathways in the body, including energy generation in cells and protein production. Although there isn’t much research available on timing with this particular form of magnesium, you might consider taking it in the morning given its benefits for cognition.
It may be a bit harder to find this type of magnesium compared to the others, but magnesium malate can potentially help promote energy production, according to Fultz. For that reason, she recommends taking it earlier in the day.
The Best Types Of Magnesium To Take At Night
On the flipside, the following magnesium supplements are ideally taken in the evening.
Magnesium glycinate is known for its calming effects and is often used to promote relaxation and better sleep, says Fultz. It’s best taken at night before bed. “It’s a highly bioavailable form of magnesium (easy to absorb), so you do not need to take it with a meal or worry about running to the bathroom afterward,” she adds. Because it’s more bioavailable, magnesium glycinate is a good option for those who have low levels and want to boost them, Fallihee notes.
Magnesium chloride is commonly used in topical applications, such as magnesium oil or bath salts, to raise magnesium levels and improve electrolyte status. Technically, magnesium can be used topically any time of day (like other forms), but most people prefer using it in baths at night to unwind and help them sleep.
Supplement Considerations To Keep In Mind
The NIH suggests that adults supplement with no more than 350 milligrams of magnesium per day, as higher doses can cause gastrointestinal side effects. However, some individuals may require higher amounts, in which case they should supplement under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
To prevent side effects and find your ideal amount when supplementing with magnesium, start with a low dose and gradually increase as needed while monitoring for any adverse effects.
Side Effects to Look Out For
While magnesium is generally safe and well-tolerated, high doses of magnesium supplements can cause side effects in some individuals, most commonly diarrhea. According to the NIH, other potential side effects of magnesium supplements can include lower blood pressure (which can manifest as lightheadedness or dizziness) and interference with the absorption of certain medications, particularly antibiotics and blood pressure drugs. If any of these areas are of concern for you, check in with a health professional before supplementing.