Inflammation Is Your Frenemy
Chronic inflammation will kill you. It's the root cause of just about every disease or illness you can name. At the very least, it contributes to or exacerbates hundreds of different aliments, from cancer and depression, to diabetes, baldness, and obesity.
But without some acute (not chronic) inflammation, you wouldn't gain an ounce of muscle either. Wounds wouldn't heal, including those "wounds" you inflict on your muscles when training. This is why many T Nation experts recommend that you avoid prescription anti-inflammatories and over-the-counter pain pills. They could be inhibiting muscle growth by squashing the healing aspects of inflammation.
So what are we supposed to do here? When it comes to training, we expect a little soreness. It's kinda pleasant, and it lets you know you did some work. That's acute soreness and it fades naturally. However, if you feel like you've been hit by a truck and need to read several motivation memes just to get out of bed, that's not good. In short, being too sore for too long sucks for your health, recovery, and gains.
We need to strike a balance and quell inflammation so it doesn't get out of control. Luckily, the solution could be as simple as getting more magnesium.
Magnesium is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body. It helps breakdown sugars and fats, provides energy to all your cells, and helps maintain mineral balance in your body. Magnesium may also squelch the "bad" inflammation brought on by intense exercise.
A recent study wanted to see what effect magnesium had on inflammation in rugby players pre and post competition. Twenty-three rugby players were randomly assigned to either a control group (no magnesium) or intervention group (magnesium supplementation). Blood samples where taken. For four weeks leading up to the match, the intervention group was given 500 mg magnesium – 250 mg twice per day. Blood samples were then taken the morning of the match, the day after, and 3 and 6 days after the match.
Researchers tested the stress markers ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and cortisol, as well as the inflammation markers IL-6 (interleukin 6) and a WBC differential. IL-6 is a protein produced at sites of acute and chronic inflammation. The WBC differential, particularly the ratio between neutrophils and lymphocytes, is an excellent marker of systemic inflammatory response.
The results? Magnesium supplementation resulted in significant decreases in IL-6, as well as the absence of sharp neutrophils to lymphocytes ratio. Simply, magnesium significantly lowered inflammation.
One of the great things about magnesium is that it's pretty harmless. The only known side effect of overdosing on the stuff is diarrhea, which is your body's natural way of preventing magnesium toxicity.
The study used 500 mg divided into two daily doses of 250 mg, so you could start there. But since magnesium also helps you relax and sleep, you could simply take a serving of ZMA® right before bed.
There's evidence that athletes and people under stress need more magnesium because stress (and exercise is a stress) causes us to excrete more magnesium through our urine. If you feel like you want to try more, go for it.
- Dmitrašinović G et al. ACTH, Cortisol and IL-6 Levels in Athletes following Magnesium Supplementation. J Med Biochem. 2016 Nov 2;35(4):375-384. PubMed.