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    100 Health and Fitness Tips

    100 Health and Fitness Tips

    1. Eat a healthy breakfast. Eating breakfast starts your day off on the right foot and gives you fuel for the day that will help you make better food decisions throughout the day. 

    2. Get moving. Walk where you can, whenever you can. Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of sending an email. Take a lap around the block. You don’t have to take long or intense walks, but try to add a few more steps to your day. 

    3. Find a workout buddy. It may not be for everyone, but for a lot of people, having a buddy to meet for workouts helps with accountability and enjoyability. If your friends’ workout schedules don’t work with yours, check out small group training and group exercise options.  

    4. Make it easier to get a full night’s sleep. Blocking out unwanted noise, keeping your room cooler and making sure your bedroom is dark enough are all ways to help perfect your sleeping environment.

    5. Play with your pet. Your furry friend does a great job of reducing stress in your life, and reducing stress in your life makes it easier to keep your fitness goals. Also, putting effort into playtime with your pet may be a great way to get in some activity for the day!

    6. Spend time with positive people. When getting started with a new habit or lifestyle change, it’s important to surround yourself with people who support you and can give you encouragement. Make plans with your support system this week to absorb some positivity. 

    7. Write down and review your progress. Seeing what you have accomplished will keep you motivated, allow you to see your progress and keep you focused on your goals.

    8. Make food changes slowly. Don’t try to change everything at once! Instead of making drastic changes all at once, make a few small adjustments every week or month to help you get where you want to be. Try a new ICON Meals Signature meal or modify the proportions you eat with our customs menu, and let your body acclimate between changes.

    9. Eight (8-ounce) cups of water a day. The amount of water each person needs can vary, but eight cups a day is a good rule of thumb (possibly more depending on your activity level).

    10. Start your day off with positive thoughts. What are you looking forward to? What fun or exciting things may happen today? We’re not telling you to forget any negative or worrisome things you are dealing with in your life, just remind yourself of the things that can and do give you a sense of calm or put a smile on your face. 

    11. Exchange the elevator for the stairs. Stairs are great at getting those steps in and it's great exercise. Adding more flights of stairs into your routine can increase your conditioning as well!

    12. Meal prep & cook ahead. Resorting to fast food or vending machine snacks is often the result of not having a better option easily available. Making a plan for the week can help you schedule in time to prepare your food while juggling all of your weekly responsibilities. Try to set aside a few hours to make a few meals all at once, and you can start your week off with all your meals ready to go by ordering from ICON Meals!

    13. Fit in a short workout before your shower. Give yourself a few extra minutes before you shower to fit in some bodyweight exercises. Or, do them before you make your bed in the morning or after doing your dinner dishes. Pick a regular moment during your daily routine and commit to a few exercises. Squats, lunges, push-ups, sit-ups and planks are all easy to fit in – no matter the room of your house!

    14. Go to bed at the same time every night. Or at least as much as possible. Everyone’s schedule changes, but training your body to begin the sleep process at a similar time each evening can help you fall asleep more quickly and prevent those nights of restless tossing and turning.

    15. Try short but intense workouts. Don’t have 45 minutes to spend at the gym every evening? Squeeze in a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout This type of workout alternates short periods of maximum effort with less intense recovery periods. Think jump rope workouts, sprinting intervals on the treadmill, circuit training and more.

    16. Go shopping on a full stomach. Avoid that moment in the grocery store when you watch your favorite unhealthy food make its way into your cart. When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to buy more food than you need and to let those unhealthy foods you crave make their way back to your home. 

    17. Stop doing anything in your best except for sleep and sex. Make your night’s sleep better by conditioning your body. Scale back your use of devices and TV before you’re in bed.  

    18. Dine out less frequently. Save money and calories. By ordering your meals from ICON Meals, you can monitor what actually goes into your food and the portion size. If you do go out to eat – think about substituting our your sides for steamed vegetables!

    19. Make sure you are using proper form. You’ve probably heard this from our trainers before, but this is a super important tip. The lack of proper forms makes you more likely to get injured, less likely to get stronger, and guarantees that you will look silly on the fitness floor. Before starting a new exercise, double check the proper form. 

    20. Get organized and set priorities and deadlines. Stress makes sticking to your fitness and diet plan even harder, and a lack of organization can add to your stress. So, outline some projects (home, monetary, work, etc.) that can help you organize pieces of your daily life and help you reduce stress.

    21. Stop smoking. We’re sure you’ve heard it before, but we have to remind you. Quitting smoking can not only help you increase your fitness level but also your day-to-day health as well. We know this is a challenge, so it’s important to find resources that can support you in this process. Check out these tips from the American Lung Association.

    22. Do your grocery shopping with a list in hand. Making a list before getting to the grocery store can help you say no to impulse buys or giving into those snacks that look super tasty. Plan our your meals, make a list of the ingredients needed and stick to your list. 

    23. Exercise during TV commercials. When a commercial starts, make the most of that downtime. You don’t need to plan anything too intense – set a squat or a pushup goal, walk through your entire house or hold a plank as long as possible. Have a Netflix-only household? Set a timer on your phone to remind you to get up every ten minutes to fit in a short exercise. 

    24. Take Naps! Sleep deprivation can affect all aspects of your life: your diet, your workouts, your stress, etc. Don’t feel guilty about squeezing in a short nap to help your body recharge. A 30-minute nap or even an extended rest period of laying down (without a nap) have been found to improve alertness and performance. 

    25. Avoid people and things that stress you out. Identify stressors in your life and try to keep a distance. It’s not always possible to do, but removing anything causing you stress is an improvement. If the stress can’t be removed, can it be improved? Brainstorm ways to reduce these stress points in your day-to-day life. You can always ask for help too! Your friends are good resources to ask about how to approach these issues.

    26. Laugh and smile! Celebrate those moments that make you happy. Taking time to express your positive emotions can impact your health and happiness. Laughter helps to cope with stress and can boost your mood (event forced laughter can give you a temporary boost).

    27. Balance your carbohydrates, fats, protein, etc. in each meal. There are a lot of different diets out there, but the easiest thing you can do is just monitor how much of each thing you are putting in your body. Eating real, whole foods makes it easier to balance these items. Food tracker apps also help you see the composition of different foods as plan your meals.

    28. Warm up before and cool down after your workouts. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the best a way to reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance. Let’s start with the warm-up. Your warm-up is designed to prepare you for the workout ahead. Therefore, the way you warm up will vary depending on what you plan to do in your workout. A warm-up for a jog would involve walking. A warm-up before lifting weights would involve performing some lighter weight sets. Cool down by performing your workout at a lower intensity or walking until your heart rate lowers. And, don’t forget stretching!

    29. Don’t add salt to your food. If you’re already eating whole, fresh foods, this isn’t such a big issue, however, most packaged foods already contain high levels of sodium, so adding more only increases your intake. Most Americans consume more than double the recommended level of sodium a day (2,300 mg), which can raise blood pressure and lead to heart disease and stroke. 

    30. Make dark chocolate your ‘indulgence food.’ In case you haven’t heard, dark chocolate is better for you than milk or white chocolate. One of the biggest benefits of dark chocolate is that it can lead to a decrease in blood pressure (with a healthy diet). Aim for dark chocolate with a cacao percentage of at least 70% to reap these health benefits, and, as with all indulgences, moderation is key. 

    31. Take a walk. Walking is a calming activity that helps you stay healthy without requiring any equipment. Regular 30-minute walks can help control hypertension and slow the progress of osteoporosis. Take regular walks throughout the week to stay on track!

    32. Brush your teeth and floss. Your dentist will be happy about this one, but so will your heart! Periodontitis, or inflammation of the gums, is considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. People who rarely brush their teeth have a significantly higher chance of having a cardiovascular event. There’s a reason your dentist tells you to brush twice a day!

    33. Follow your passion and do the things you love. People who live their lives with purpose and believe their lives have meaning or purpose report higher life satisfaction and psychological well-being. Find the things you are passionate about and pursue them, it’s worth the effort.

    34. Hit the gym as a couple. One way you can spend more time together as a couple is by becoming workout partners. Studies show that couples are more likely to stay with their exercise routine if they work out together. Couples also work out harder than they would solo. One study found that 95 percent of couples who work out together maintained weight loss compares to the 66 percent of singles who did.

    35. Eat more spicy foods. Hot peppers contain capsaicin, and the hotter the pepper the more capsaicin it contains (of course, be safe while eating hot peppers). Capsaicin has a number of health benefits, such reducing inflammation, pain relief, congestion relief, improved intestinal health, cardioprotection and increased fat burning.

    36. Shop the perimeter. Healthier foods like fruits, vegetables and meats aren’t generally found in the aisles of the grocery store. Try to fill your cart with items found around the perimeter of the store and avoid the aisles as much as possible.

    37. Put on your gym clothes. It sounds silly, but just committing to putting on your workout clothes can be enough to convince yourself to head to the gym. You don’t HAVE to workout once you have your gym clothes on, but you’re far more likely to. 

    38. Watch less TV. It’s tough to admit, but TV watching is a sedentary activity. Can you challenge yourself to replace some of your TV watching with a more active hobby? 

    39. Meditate. Try to meditate for at least five minutes a day. Close your eyes and bring your attention to one thing (like your breath) for a period of time. When your mind starts to wander (and it will!) just let that go and return to your breath. 

    40. Skip the cream and sugar in your tea or coffee. And artificial sweeteners, too. Drinking your beverages straight is healthier for you and allows you to maximize their benefits.

    41. Take a hike. No shortage of benefits here: the varied terrain makes this workout a little more intense than just walking, you get to absorb vitamin D from the sun, and hiking is generally a longer workout than a short walk around the neighborhood.

    42. Journal. Write about your negative thoughts instead of holding them in. Writing down negative experiences, thoughts and problems helps you process, problem-solve and cope. The simple act of writing things down can make a huge difference.

    43. Make veggies your bffTry to add a serving of vegetables to every meal. Vegetables are among the most nutrient-dense of all foods, and they fill you up faster. This food group is a great source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, so add a variety to your diet!

    44. Play. Get involved in sports or games that keep you active and that you enjoy. 

    45. Foam roll. Whether you choose a foam roller, tennis balls, muscle sticks or other fitness tools, try to fit in some self-myofascial release into your gym time. This practice helps improve soft tissue health and speeds recovery.

    46. Practice gratitude. Positivity is often reflective. Taking time to say “please,” “thank you,” “I appreciate it” and anything else positive throughout your day will often reflect directly back to you and make your days less stressful.

    47. Have a morning routine. Implementing a morning routine helps you start your day off on the right foot, every day. You don’t get behind first thing before you even get out the door. Use this time to exercise or to accomplish whatever goals you have set for the day.

    48. Improve your posture. Whether for health reasons or just to look more confident, you should be paying attention to your posture. Poor posture can lead to neck and back pain and a list of other health complications. 

    49. Eat more omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have long been praised for their many possible health benefits, including reducing inflammation, lowering your risk of diseases such as heart disease and arthritis, and their positive impact on brain health. Add more to your diet through fatty fish such as salmon (wild-caught, not farmed), flax seeds and walnuts. Walnuts make a great healthy snack, and try to each fatty fish at least twice per week.

    50. Eat real foods. Purchase and eat minimally-processed foods – plants, fruits, meats, nuts, etc. This helps eliminate things like refined grains, sweeteners and the ingredients you can’t pronounce.

    51. Create a backup plan. Common obstacles can derail a fitness plan: no time, no motivation, too little knowledge, strapped for funds, etc. All of these roadblocks have a solution, and we’re here to help you find it!

    – Too busy/no time: Try working out in the morning. Getting up a little earlier and fitting in your workout helps avoid any obstacles that can spring up throughout your day. You can make your workout shorter and still get in your sessions. You can try shorter, more intense workout sessions such as intervals or Tabata training.
    – No motivation/lack of knowledge: Try working out with a trainer!
    – Limited funds: Check out group classes!

    52. Monitor your caffeine intake. Everyone responds to different levels of caffeine, but we think it’s a good rule to avoid consuming caffeine after dinner. Moderating your caffeine intake can help you get better sleep and feel more alert during the day.

    53. Reduce the clutter in your life. All the “stuff” you have in your life can add stress, and you may not even realize it until it’s gone. Try cleaning out that junk drawer, going through those piles of mail or cleaning our your closet. Those small improvements could remove small sources of stress and give you a little more peace.

    54. Hang out with friends. Having a supportive social network is important. The strength of your relationships with family, friends and your community supports your well-being and physical health.

    55. Start to make your workouts harder. Your workouts are there to improve your fitness, however, if you keep doing the same things over and over, you’ll hit a point where you max out the benefits of that workout. Progressive overload, gradually increasing the amount of stress you put on your body during a workout, helps you to keep challenging your body. Aim to increase the stress of your workout each time to continually progress your fitness. 

    56. Season your food with healthy spices. Some spices, such as cinnamon, ginger and tumeric, are incredibly nutrient dense and can have positive effects on your health. For example, turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory, ginger contains many antioxidants and cinnamon has been shown to help control blood sugar.

    57. Plan healthy meals in advance. Creating a plan for your week helps you limit your impulse buys at the grocery store and helps you stick to your plan (and less likely to eat out at restaurants because you don’t know what to make for dinner).

    58. Do your housework. As simple as it sounds, chores can add up to a significant calorie burn. Tasks like sweeping, yard work or cleaning out a closet are all great ways to get a little extra exercise.

    59. Try to wake up at the same time every day. Getting your body into a rhythm of getting up and out of bed at the same time every day (weekdays AND weekends) is one of the best things you can do to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. Even if you’re staying up to different hours each night, committing to your wake time helps regulate your sleep schedule and helps your body get up and going in the morning.

    60. Don’t eat heavy meals before bed. Making your body try to digest a heavy meal makes it harder to relax and harder to sleep. If you’re hungry, you don’t need to skip your snack, just avoid greasy, spicy and sugary foods.

    61. Push through discomfort. That doesn’t mean push through pain. The number one rule of working out is to listen to your body, but don’t avoid a workout just because it makes you uncomfortable.

    62. Replace your nighttime dessert with fruit or cottage cheese. Fruit is sweet and usually lower in fat and calories than desserts. Cottage cheese contains slow-to-digest proteins that can help your muscles recover from your workouts.

    63. Appreciate the beauty around you. Take time to actually focus your attention on the things around you that you enjoy, find beautiful, that calm you, etc. To fully appreciate something, take time to notice the details and reflect on what it is about that specific thing that you enjoy.

    64. Replace unhealthy snacks. Instead, try nuts, fruits and veggies. If you live your life on the go (who doesn’t?), try creating pre-packaged baggies of snacks over the weekend that you can just grab on the way out the door. Think cucumber slices, carrots, almonds, berries, etc.  

    65. Add recovery workouts. By now, you know that rest is important to your workout routine, but we also recommend adding active recovery workouts into your schedule. During these workouts, try to keep your heart rate lower by taking a walk, lightly riding a bike or hopping on the elliptical.  

    66. Work toward your personal goals. Set personal goals that are in alignment with your values and purpose, and then pursue them! Having a specific goal in mind (better health, personal growth, etc.) can help you frame all the effort you are putting in every day. Thinking about your goals daily can demonstrate why that extra weekly workout is worth it!

    67. Avoid bright light before bed.  Light affects how your body prepares for sleep, so keeping your screens on before bed can interrupt your sleep cycle. Light can prevent your body from secreting melatonin – the hormone that makes you tired and helps keep you asleep. Try putting your devices down and turning off your TV two hours before you fall asleep – we know it can be difficult!

    68. Cut out the soda. No really. Soda contains a lot of calories from high fructose corn syrup that can easily be removed from your daily intake – just by eliminating soda consumption. Also, avoid diet soda due to the artificial sweeteners they contain, which may actually stimulate your appetite.

    69. Limit isolation exercises. For the most part, most of us aren’t bodybuilders, so we don’t have the need to focus attention on very specific muscles. Exercises, like bicep curls, help sculpt specific parts of your body instead of working on total body fitness. While useful for rehab, they aren’t necessarily the best exercises to have in your routine by themselves.

    70. Prepare for the next day before bed. Set aside a few minutes before getting into bed to write your to-do list for the next day, set your clothes aside, pack your gym bag, etc. Eliminate anything you can that may keep your mind going to help yourself have a better night sleep.

    71. Eat until you’re 80% full. It takes about 20 minutes after you’re finished eating to actually ‘feel’ full (your brain needs to catch up). Try to finish your meal before you feel completely full and let your body catch up. 

    72. Take a 30-minute walk. This simple habit is a great way to improve your health. Walking can help you avoid workout burnout, help control hypertension, slow the progress of osteoporosis, produce a calming effect and much more!

    73. Exercise your mind. Lifelong learning is necessary for a balanced lifestyle. Playing games, reading, puzzles, etc. are all great ways to exercise your mind and de-stress. 

    74. Forgive others (and yourself). Forgiveness has been found to improve the body’s response to stress (lower blood pressure, heart rate and quicker recovery from stressors). Of course, every situation is different, and you know your life best, but if you can, work on forgiveness – your body may thank you.

    75. Learn about workout nutrition. Different types of workouts and fitness goals take different types of fuel. For example, for weight loss, you may want to make sure that you increase your intake of quality protein to avoid muscle loss. Take the time to research and learn about what type of nutrition is right for your goals. 

    76. Use more mustard. Mayo contains trans fats, and BBQ sauce and ketchup contain a lot of sugar. In contrast, mustard is low calorie and is a good source of several beneficial minerals and nutrients. 

    77. Practice good hygiene. It may seem like we’re stating the obvious, but being mindful of your cleanliness is good for you. Daily showers, proper food handling, hand washing and regularly cleaning help stop the spreading of germs and infections (and just makes everything smell better). 

    78. Stop buying “healthy” foods. Don’t believe the packaging, because a lot of time those healthy foods are hiding a lot of unhealthy things. Spend your time educating yourself about what actually makes food “healthy” and focusing on the good stuff.

    79. Focus on compound exercises. Compound exercises engage more than one muscle group, and they are functional (they train your nervous system along with your individual muscles). Make sure to add a variety of these exercises to your routine: 

    – legs (lunges, step-ups, squats, deadlifts)
    – upper body push (bench press, overhead pressing, push-ups)
    – upper body pull (dumbbell rows, chin-ups)

    80. Take a break when you’re stressed. When you’re overwhelmed, take a step back. A simple breathing exercise can help you feel calmer. For each breath, count to four as you inhale, hold it for a four count and exhale for another four. 

    81. Add in probiotics. Probiotics can improve your digestion and help fight off ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut, leading to improved immune function. There is also evidence that probiotics may play a role in relieving anxiety. You can find probiotics in foods like yogurt (unpasteurized) and fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, pickles, kimchi and tempeh. You can also add probiotics via supplements.

    82. Assume that other people have good intentions – Finding the positive qualities in others can help improve your social life and, studies prove that being trusting can increase your well-being. Finding the positive qualities in others may help you see the best qualities in yourself as well!

    83. Eat your sandwiches open-faced. Lose some of the bread (and the calories and carbs) and focus on what’s inside the sandwich – especially the protein and veggies!

    84. Use progressive muscle relaxation. While laying in bed, try to relax your whole body. Go through each muscle group one at a time. Make each one as tense as possible and then relax it before moving on to the next one. Start from the top of your head and move down to your toes. When you’ve finished, listen to your body to see what muscles are still tense. For these areas, repeat the process up to four times.

    85. Start doing Yoga. Yoga is a form of exercise that blends body movement with breath. There are many benefits of incorporating a Yoga practice as part of your exercise routine, including improved flexibility and balance, decreased stress, and increased strength, focus and self-awareness.

    86. Skip the salad dressing. Many salad dressings pile on the calories, sugar and refined vegetable oils negating the benefit of the salad you so carefully made. Opt for extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon and lime juice instead.

    87. Follow the two-minute rule. If there is something on your to-do list that you can complete in less than two minutes, do it immediately. Getting things crossed off your life (and off your mind) can help reduce stress from your life.

    88. Add more organic foods. Not everything you eat needs to be organic (we get it, organic can be expensive), but focusing on more organic produce can eliminate any possible pesticides or other chemicals that non-organic produce is sprayed with.

    89. Spend more time in the sun for more vitamin D. Try getting 10 minutes of daily sun exposure when it’s nice out. Vitamin D, which the sun can help your body produce, can help prevent weakness and many other diseases. Important note: don’t forget your sunscreen for prolonged exposure to the sun.

    90. Use healthier cooking methods instead of frying. Fried foods absorb a lot of fat in the cooking process (depending on the oil, these can be unhealthy fats), and vegetables lose part of their nutritional value when fried. Instead, think about roasting, baking, steaming, etc.

    91. Consider your sleep cycles. Instead of focusing on how long you sleep, think about how many 90-minute sleep cycles you are able to complete. The best time to wake up is at the end of a cycle, so start with the time you need to get up and count back in 90-minute increments to find the best time to close your eyes at night. Everyone’s cycles and sleep needs a different, but a good rule of thumb is trying to go to bed 6, 7.5 or 9 hours before you need to wake up.

    92. Get creative with your exercise. Your body adapts to the workouts you put it through, so it’s important to change things up. Try new group exercise classes or enlist the help of a trainer.

    93. Marinate before grilling. Marinades may provide a barrier between the direct flame/heat of the grill and your meat entree preventing the buildup of possibly harmful chemicals created by cooking meat at high temperatures. Soaking meat in a marinade of alcohol (from wine or beer) and herbs for at least four hours can decrease the formation of these chemicals.

    94. Spend more time in nature. Spring is the perfect chance to head outdoors. Spending time outside is a great way to de-stress, reduce levels of hostility and depression and to increase feelings of liveliness.

    95. Just say “no.” FOMO, guilt, duty – all of these are reasons that we agree to plans, favors and other things that we really don’t want to do. Remind yourself that it’s okay to decline requests and invitations when you need more time for yourself. Respect yourself and your own time.

    96. Eat responsibly-raised fish, meat and eggs. Wild-caught fish, grass-fed meat and free-range eggs can make a difference in the quality of food you eat. When animals are raised in their natural habitats on their natural diets, they tend to be healthier and better for us.

    97. Reframe your thoughts. Sometimes it’s easy to see the negative parts of events rather than the positive. “I only lost two pounds this week instead of four!” But, remember, you still lost two pounds! When appropriate, learn to recognize your negative thoughts and focus on ways to frame them in a positive light instead.

    98. Use healthier oils. Look for oils that have a high smoke point (such as coconut and avocado oil) so that they don’t break down while you are cooking. Olive oil is a great choice for adding to foods, sauces and dressings, but avoid using it for high-temperature cooking. And, in general, try to avoid highly processed vegetable oils in your diet.

    99. Substitute whole wheat for “white” carbs. Look for products that list “wheat flour” on their ingredients list – not “whole wheat flour” or “100% whole wheat flour.” Or – substitute quinoa in your sides, wraps and more!

    100. Make the most of everyday! We like knowing you're healthy and happy and we want to do whatever we can to help you stay that way. Make sure to plan your weekly meals out with ICON Meals! Reach out to our staff if you have any questions! They’re here to help – and they love doing it!

    Cardio: Fed Or Fasted? By Team ICON Meals Athlete Brandan Fokken

    Cardio: Fed Or Fasted? By Team ICON Meals Athlete Brandan Fokken
    Feeling frustrated your fitness endeavors are starting to feel like past math classes? When it all seemed straight forward and simple, they threw X, Y, and Z into the mix, and from there is quickly escalated from making sense to extremely complicated (remember deciphering proofs in college?). 

    Think back to the days when cardio was just, well, cardio. The concept was pretty straight forward and simple, but as time has passed you’ve quickly learned that cardio isn’t as simple as you once believed. The type, frequency, and time can be confusing enough…and now they’ve thrown another element into the mix… 

    Read more

    Magnesium – How To Supplement With And Why You Should Do It

    Magnesium – How To Supplement With And Why You Should Do It

    Eat right. Exercise regularly. Recover well. Get sunlight. Take your vitamins and minerals.

    There is no doubt that these are all incredibly important steps to a healthy life. But, ensuring you have adequate minerals in their ideal ratios, is arguably the foundation to health and longevity. These minerals are what drive all of the cellular processes in our bodies – from creating energy to move to sending nerve impulses between our limbs and our brains. Our bodies are electric beings. Our cells all have a voltage, and it is the quantity, location and interplay of these minerals that keeps our cells ‘charged’ in order to function optimally. A low voltage means a low functioning cell.

    One of the minerals that is vitally important to us is magnesium. It is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies and the second most common deficiency we see in the world today – the first being vitamin D (read my guide on Vitamin D here). If you’ve been contemplating supplementing with magnesium but just don’t know where to start, then this guide is for you.

    FACTS ABOUT MAGNESIUM

    Supplement with Magnesium

    We tend to think of mineral deficiencies as having little impact on our health, but when we’re talking about magnesium and the fact that it is essential for the function of over 354 enzymes in our body and there are over 3751 binding sites for magnesium proteins in our cells, we should re-evaluate its importance! In fact, some even argue that magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other mineral deficiency.

    There are seven macrominerals – minerals that we do not make ourselves and need to obtain more than 100mg of them from our diet. We have about 20 to 28 grams of magnesium in our body. One percent of that is in our blood, 60% in our bones and teeth and the rest is in our muscles, heart, brain and other tissues.

    Magnesium is found naturally in plants and some animal foods which they absorb from the soil. We absorb this mineral throughout our small intestine in a well-regulated and sensitive way, and our kidneys control how much is secreted and reabsorbed depending on our magnesium status.

    But, magnesium is also the most depleted mineral in our soils. Factors that cause this depletion include:

    • The use of pesticides and herbicides
    • Potash fertilizer – potassium chloride/carbonate that replaces magnesium in soil
    • Soil erosion and acid rain

    All of these strip magnesium from the soil and result in plants that are weak and pale as magnesium is needed for chlorophyll and plant photosynthesis.

    WHAT DEPLETES MAGNESIUM IN HUMANS?

    • Food processing: Modern processing methods like refining grains, heating and treating natural foods, and even boiling vegetables strips them of magnesium.
    • Fluoride & Chlorine: Found in water and toothpaste, fluoride displaces magnesium in our cells, and stays there.
    • Stress: High amounts of stress influences how we absorb magnesium by lowering our stomach acid.
    • Gut Sensitivities: IBS or leaky gut cause poor absorption.
    • Anti-nutrients: Some plants contain tannins (in tea), phytates and oxalates. These compounds all decrease the absorption of magnesium.
    • Highly processed, sugary foods: These foods provide zero magnesium, but use it to be metabolized. They deplete vitamin B6 levels which is responsible for magnesium absorption.
    • Alcohol, some drugs & caffeine: These can impact absorption and distribution of magnesium in our bodies.
    • Hypokalemia: Low potassium levels influence the balance of magnesium.
    • High estrogen levels: Estrogen has been shown to lower levels of magnesium.
    • Insulin resistance: Being insulin sensitive is vital for our intestinal cells ability to absorb magnesium. High levels of insulin in the blood cause magnesium to be lost in the urine.
    • Coffee: Although coffee provides a source of magnesium, it causes less magnesium to be absorbed, and more to be excreted by the body.
    • Low salt intake: Low sodium in the blood causes both sodium and magnesium to be pulled from bone and placed into the blood. It also increases magnesium lost in sweat.
    • Low stomach acid: This reduces the absorption of magnesium in the gut.

    Looking at all of these factors that impact a healthy level of magnesium are because of the modern world we live in today. Many people are overly stressed, have a poor diet that is low in magnesium-rich foods and are either severely or moderately insulin resistant.

    In fact, if we look at the calcium:magnesium ratio, back in the early 1900’s it was 1:1 – the optimal ratio of magnesium to calcium. Today, we have a ratio of anywhere between 5:1 and 15:1, simply because of the modern environment we live in. This ratio is extremely important, with too little magnesium causing constipation, for example.

    MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENTS

    WHY TAKE MAGNESIUM?

    Well, apart from what’s already been mentioned about how critical magnesium is in many processes in our bodies and how likely it is that we’re deficient, let’s take a look at some of the mechanisms by which magnesium acts:

    1. Energy Production

    Magnesium exists in every cell and for good reason. The enzymes involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate or ATP – the ‘energy molecule’ – all require magnesium ions to work. In fact, ATP exists in our cells as MgATP.

    Low magnesium status = low ATP production = low energy = fatigue. Many people attribute their fatigue to external life stressors, but a low magnesium status may be the underlying cause.

    1. Neurotransmission

    The firing of nerves in the nervous system is tightly controlled as minerals and neurotransmitters (chemicals that control nerve signals) flow in and out of neurons. Magnesium controls the flow of calcium ions which controls the excitability of nerve impulses. Without this regulation, nerves fire at random and too frequently, causing ADHD and poor sleep.

    Magnesium also binds to NMDA receptors in the brain which regulates glutamate production. Overall, synaptic density, function and plasticity is influenced by magnesium. This is the underpinning of a healthy functioning brain.

    1. Muscle Contraction & Heart Function

    Over 35% of magnesium is within our muscles because it is essential for muscular contractions – the very process that moves our bodies!

    Magnesium plays a similar role in muscle contraction as it does in nerve transmission; tightly regulating the flow of positively and negatively charged ions into and out of cells. The build up and consequent flow of these charged ions is what creates an electrical gradient that drives the ‘pumping’ of our hearts.

    Calcium, another important player here, flows into muscle cells and causes a contraction. Magnesium is a calcium channel blocker which means it controls how much calcium gets into muscle cells so that our muscles aren’t always in a state of contraction. With low magnesium, our muscles cramp regularly, we get muscle pain, fibromyalgia and even heart arrhythmias.

    Our blood pressure is also influenced by magnesium as it plays a role in producing nitric oxide – a compound that dilates our blood vessels. For this reason, hypertension is commonly seen in those with magnesium deficiency .

    1. Protein Synthesis

    From amino acids into functional proteins; the process of making new proteins and repairing existing ones is dependent on magnesium. RNA, DNA and glutathione are a few examples.

    1. Psychological Health & Sleep Quality

    Depression and anxiety are major clinical symptoms of a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is a cofactor needed in the formation of important mood-related hormones: serotonin, melatonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Each step in the production of these hormones needs a magnesium ion to work. For example, the biochemical process: tryptophan → 5 HTP → serotonin → melatonin, needs magnesium at each step. Imbalances in these hormones is the underlying cause of many mental disorders like anxiety and depression and of course, poor sleep.

    Others include:

    • Blood sugar control
    • Activation of B Vitamins, Vitamin D and glutathione
    • Cell division (growth of new cells)
    • Electrolyte homeostasis (Na, K, Ca, P, Mg etc.)

    We can see how diverse magnesium’s role is in the body and why being in a deficit can cause so many health problems. The diversity of the systems in the body that are impacted make the symptoms of magnesium deficiency rather broad:

    Mild deficiency:

     

    Loss of appetite, nausea
    Headache, brain fog
    Fatigue
    Eye twitching
    Chocolate cravings

    Severe deficiency:

     

    Arrhythmias (irregular heart beats)
    Muscle cramps
    Fibromyalgia
    Numbness & tingling

    It is estimated that a whopping 75% of Americans aren’t getting enough magnesium. That’s 3 out of every 4 people. On average, people’s intake of magnesium is below the recommended daily allowance, with an average of 250mg. This is likely because of our nutrient depleted soils, a low intake of magnesium-rich foods and a high intake of refined, processed, sugar-laden foods. The standard American diet is a sure route to becoming deficient in this essential mineral.

    MAGNESIUM AND THE ATHLETE

    Magnesium is essential for optimal performance and post-exercise recovery! The mineral is needed for the energy producing pathways glycolysis, the TCA cycle and creatine phosphate production, which in simple terms just means the breakdown of glucose or other food into energy to fuel exercise. On top of that, exercise is known to deplete magnesium stores, especially through sweat which is why athletes may have a higher requirement for magnesium compared to a sedentary person.

    MAGNESIUM AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

    Magnesium is not often thought to influence the immune system. You’ll be surprised to find out that magnesium is essential for our immune cells, specifically natural killer cells and T cells to express receptors that bind to virally infected cells and cancerous cells to target them for destruction. Without magnesium inside our cells, we can’t attack viruses.

    Additionally, we know how important vitamin D is for a healthy immune system. But, vitamin D needs to be converted from calcidiol into its active form called calcitriol by various enzymes in the liver and kidneys. This cannot happen without magnesium. No magnesium means no active vitamin D.

    WHY PEOPLE SUPPLEMENT WITH MAGNESIUM

    Based on magnesium’s many functions in the human body, it plays a role in the prevention and treatment of many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and ADHD to name a few. We can see from the many roles described above that having adequate magnesium levels is important. Because of its universal role in the body, some companies can make far reaching claims. Most commonly, magnesium is taken to:

    • Improve sleep
    • Enhance exercise performance
    • Reduce muscle cramps and pain
    • Prevent migraine headaches
    • Treat constipation
    • Improve heart health
    • Improve insulin sensitivity

    NUTRITION IS KEY!

    Magnesium is found in many plant foods and animal foods but due to food processing techniques and our mineral-depleted soils, some foods are devoid of magnesium by the time they reach our plates. One study showed that “the daily dietary intake of magnesium in Western society has been declining from about 500mg per day in the 1900’s to a value closer to 175mg per day.”

    Being careful about what you eat is important – focus on eating foods in their natural state and buying organic where possible. Following a paleo diet or a well-formulated ketogenic diet that is whole-foods based is a great way to start. The following ten foods have high amounts of magnesium in them. Try to include them in your diet every day!

    1. Dark leafy greens
    2. Avocados
    3. Grass-fed dairy
    4. Pumpkin seeds
    5. Sea vegetables (dulse, nori, kelp, chlorella, chlorophyll & spirulina)
    6. Pink Himalayan salt
    7. Nuts (brazil, pistachio, almond)
    8. Wild salmon
    9. Sprouts (sprouted seeds also have fewer phytates & oxalates)
    10. Dark chocolate

    It is hard to overdose with magnesium from food sources, as any excess will simply be excreted in urine by your kidneys. In contrast, overdosing with supplemental magnesium can cause negative side effects like diarrhea.

    Interestingly, magnesium and sodium (salt) balance play a role in maintaining normal magnesium levels. If you don’t include enough salt in your diet, you have low sodium in your bloodstream which causes your body to pull magnesium from your bones and place it into the blood to counteract this. Also, when we sweat, we excrete mostly sodium. If you’re low in sodium, magnesium replaces this in sweat and you end up losing more magnesium. The bottom line is: if you eat a mostly whole-foods diet, you should regularly salt your food, but in the modern world, many people consume too many processed foods that contain way too much sodium!

    If you’re got your nutrition dialed in but still experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, or have had your magnesium levels tested and you’re still deficient, then adding a magnesium supplement that suits you is a good idea.

    MEASURING MAGNESIUM STATUS

    There are 3 tests that you can take to determine whether you’re magnesium deficient. You can measure the amount of magnesium in:

    1. Serum/blood
    2. Urine
    3. Cells (red blood cells)

    A simple blood test is the easiest but is not reflective of your overall levels because, as mentioned previously, only 1% of magnesium exists in the blood. It is a good indicator for acute changes in magnesium like straight after taking a supplement. If you have too much magnesium in your urine, you may be excreting too much, but its presence is not necessarily a bad thing as our kidneys are continuously controlling our levels by retaining and excreting certain amounts. The level in your cells – measured by the amount in your red blood cells – is a more sensitive method but again, if it is low, this may mean you have a poor ability to absorb magnesium into your cells.

    In summary, the most optimal situation would be to test all three so that you can have a well-rounded understanding of your overall magnesium status.

    CHOOSING SUPPLEMENTS

    With the wide range of magnesium supplements on the market today, choosing the right supplement can be challenging! What’s the difference between the different forms? Which one does my body need? When should I take it?

    These are all very valid questions! And I have asked them a couple of times myself. There are a few things to consider when choosing a supplement, the most important being bioavailability. The last thing you want is to be spending money on supplements that your body isn’t using.

    BIOAVAILABILITY

    The truth of the matter is that there are many factors that influence the bioavailability of a magnesium supplement. This means the amount of elemental magnesium that gets absorbed and used by the body and can range from 35% to 70%. This is the very reason researchers and scientists have come up with so many different forms of magnesium, searching for the form with the best bioavailability.

    What matters is whether a supplement increases the amount of magnesium within our cells. Magnesium is an ‘intracellular’ mineral, which means that it does most of its ‘jobs’ inside our cells. An oral magnesium supplement needs to get from the acidic environment of the stomach, get absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestine and circulate throughout the body where it can enter the cells. If a supplement can do this, it is very bioavailable.

    The three main factors influencing bioavailability:

    1. Solubility – the more soluble, the easier the magnesium ion separates from the compound it’s attached to so that it can be absorbed.
    2. Elemental Magnesium Load – the amount of magnesium that the supplement provides compared to the salt/chemical it is bound to.
    3. Magnesium Status – the person’s level of magnesium will influence how much is absorbed, with greater absorption seen in those who are deficient.

    THE DIFFERENT FORMS

    Magnesium supplements come in different forms that vary in the factors described above. Typically, magnesium supplements are sold as magnesium salts, which is essentially a magnesium ion bound to either an organic or inorganic salt.

    Organic salts are created by combining magnesium with an acid or an amino acid (protein) – called an ‘amino acid chelate’. For example, magnesium citrate is made by combining magnesium with citric acid while magnesium glycinate is made by combining magnesium to the amino acid glycine.

    Inorganic salts are generally harvested from the earth.

    Organic magnesium salts bound to an acid include:

    • Mg Citrate
    • Mg Gluconate
    • Mg Malate
    • Mg Orotate
    • Mg Ascorbate
    • Mg Lactate
    • Mg Fumarate

    Organic magnesium salts bound to an amino acid include:

    • Mg Glycinate
    • Mg Threonate
    • Mg Pidolate
    • Mg Taurate
    • Mg Glutamate
    • Mg Aspartate

    Inorganic magnesium salts include:

    • Mg Oxide
    • Mg Chloride
    • Mg Sulfate
    • Mg Carbonate

    Which form is the best?

    From the scientific research that we do have, the results tend to differ quite a lot, but generally, organic salts have a greater bioavailability than inorganic salts.

    Multiple studies have shown magnesium citrate to be more absorbable than magnesium oxide because it can withstand the acidity of stomach acids and it is very soluble. There is a tradeoff between the two however, where citrate has a higher solubility than oxide, it comes with a slightly lower amount of elemental magnesium.

    There has been no evidence to show amino acid chelates to have better bioavailability than other magnesium salts. Their benefits may come from the value of the amino acid itself. For example, magnesium glycinate provides a glycine amino acid with it which has unique gut health and brain benefits. Another, magnesium threonate can potentially allow the magnesium ion to cross the blood brain barrier getting more magnesium into the brain, however more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

    Many people are aware of the laxative effect of magnesium. In this case, it isn’t ideal to continue supplementing with it because you don’t absorb all of the magnesium. Instead, it is flushed through your body far too quickly to have any impact. Magnesium citrate and hydroxide are two forms commonly used for their laxative effect. The reason you experience this is because magnesium draws water into the intestines and colons, increasing gut motility. Rather experiment with a different form, or check with your doctor before carrying on.

    In summary, highly absorbable forms of magnesium salts are magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate. More research needs to be done comparing all of the different forms to one another, but if you opt for organic salts over inorganic salts, you’re taking one step in the right direction.

    Other forms: 

    Nano Minerals

    Interestingly, a new form of magnesium called a ‘nano mineral’ appears to be a highly bioavailable supplement. In the form of ‘nano magnesium chloride’, it is essentially a smaller magnesium ion that, because of its size, can pass into the bloodstream from the intestine easily, without the need of a transporter. More research is needed on this. 

    Topical Magnesium

    Many forms of magnesium can be used topically – applied to the skin – such as magnesium chloride and magnesium sulfate. While the skin is the largest organ in our body, some argue that it has the best rates of absorption. It is also a good alternative to getting enough magnesium if you experience adverse effects from oral supplements. Taking an epsom salt bath is a very common relaxation practice.

    Each person responds differently, however, commonly used forms for specific health problems are:

    • Improve brain function → magnesium threonate (readily absorbed into the brain)
    • Increase bowel movement → magnesium oxide, hydroxide & citrate (laxative effect)
    • Muscle relaxation → magnesium citrate, sulfate (calms muscle tissue)
    • Improve sleep → magnesium glycinate (glycine may help sleep)
    • Improve energy & muscle pain → magnesium malate (malate can improve stamina)

    What form do I use?

    My preference, especially on the keto diet, is magnesium glycinate but I also like to have a powdered magnesium, by BioTrust, before bed as it helps me to relax.

    What lowers magesium’s bioavailability?

    • Phytates, oxalates and tannins
      These chemicals found in plants inhibit the absorption of magnesium and other minerals in our gut (calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, chromium and manganese). They are dietary ligands (proteins) that bind to minerals in the intestine, decreasing their ability to get absorbed in the gut.
    • Insulin resistance
      Having poor insulin sensitivity, which means your cells don’t respond to insulin very well, has been linked to poor magnesium absorption. People who are insulin resistant tend to have higher blood sugar levels which can increase magnesium loss in urine.
    • Calcium intake
      Some medical professionals believe that when calcium and magnesium are taken together that the bioavailability of magnesium is decreased. This may be because they are both ions with a positive charge of 2 and therefore compete for uptake in the gut. Perhaps, if the magnesium and calcium salts were of different forms, this problem could be avoided.
    • Magnesium status
      The more deficient you are in magnesium, the more magnesium your body will absorb in the gut.

    DOSE

    The recommended daily allowances:

    Men (aged 19+): 400 – 420mg per day

    Women (aged 19+): 320 – 360mg per day

    Children (aged 1 – 18 years): 85 – 300mg per day

    Pregnant/breastfeeding women: 350 – 400mg per day

    Dosage recommendations can vary depending on your needs. The bioavailability of the supplement will influence what dose you’re ultimately getting too. Studies have found positive effects with daily doses between 125 – 2500mg, however it is best to get tested first and to consult with your doctor before taking a supplement, especially at higher dosages.

    CAN YOU OVERDOSE WITH MAGNESIUM?

    Your kidneys should do the work to get rid of any excess magnesium and so overdosing is not very common. Although, in individuals with poor kidney function, taking too much magnesium could lead to hypermagnesemia.

    In general, the risk is low for healthy people, but if you are experiencing adverse symptoms like loose stools regularly, you may be taking too much magnesium.

    By now I hope you realize just how important magnesium is for a healthy functioning body. If you’re not already making a conscious effort to incorporate magnesium-rich foods into your diet, then you may want to get your levels tested. Be aware of all of the magical marketing claims out there – they can be misleading, especially when the science behind the different magnesium forms is lacking.

    Let me know if you take a magnesium supplement, and what forms you have found to work best! We are all on a continuous journey to find ways to optimize our health. Follow mine on Instagram, and share yours with me too!

    Original article may be found directly on Shawn's site: https://shawnwells.com/blog/supplement-with-magnesium/ 

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    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16548135

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    K Kisters, F Wessels, F Tokmak, ER Krefting, B Gremmler, M Kosch, M Hausberg . Early-onset increased calcium and decreased magnesium concentrations and an increased calcium/magnesium ratio in SHR versus WKY. Magnesium Research. 2004;17(4):264-269.

    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-dosage#depression

    https://drjockers.com/best-magnesium-rich-foods/?ck_subscriber_id=790499286