Choosing the Right Magnesium: A Breakdown of Types and Uses

Magnesium: Nature's power for energy, muscles, and brain. Unlock your potential by choosing the right type.

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By Ellen Landes
Caitlin Snethlage
Edited by Caitlin Snethlage

Published March 6, 2024.

A person holding a magnesium pill.

Magnesium is a critical mineral with diverse functions in the body. It supports protein synthesis and DNA repair and is vital to nervous system function and muscle health. This translates to benefits like improved energy levels, better exercise performance, and reduced cramps.

Getting enough magnesium through a balanced diet rich in leafy greens, nuts, and seeds is ideal; however, some individuals may require additional supplementation.

The recommended daily magnesium intake varies depending on age, gender, and life stage. The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) are as follows: [1]

AgeMale Female
0–6 months30 mg30 mg
7–12 months75 mg75 mg
1–3 years80 mg80 mg
4–8 years130 mg130 mg
9–13 years240 mg240 mg
14–18 years410 mg360 mg
19–30 years400 mg310 mg
31+ years420 mg320 mg

Note that the RDA of magnesium for pregnant and lactating women can be higher. Consult a healthcare professional regarding individual needs before supplementing. [2]

The upper limit for magnesium minerals from supplements is 350 mg daily, although this amount may vary based on individual health factors such as diet and medical conditions. While it can benefit low-risk individuals, exceeding the recommended intake can hinder absorption as the body's mechanisms for transporting the mineral become saturated.

Remember, blind supplementation without considering individual needs can have adverse consequences. While exceeding the upper limit can lead to mild digestive issues like diarrhea and nausea, research suggests that it can be life-threatening in rare cases. [3]

Note: To maximize benefits and avoid potential side effects, consult a healthcare professional. They can assess individual needs through various means—including bloodwork—to determine the safest and most effective approach.

» Discover how blood biomarkers InsideTracker measures

Ensuring optimal magnesium mineral levels through food

A well-balanced diet comprising magnesium-rich foods is one of the best ways to maintain adequate levels and should be the first step before considering supplementation.

Food sources containing magnesium include:

  • Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Whole grains: Quinoa, brown rice, oats, and barley.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans.
  • Other sources: Dark chocolate—70% cocoa or higher—and avocados.

Note: Many factors influence how your body uses magnesium; a single test only tells part of the story. InsideTracker analyzes various unique biomarkers and DNA to paint a complete picture of your health.

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What type of magnesium supplement is best?

While magnesium minerals from food sources are generally considered bioavailable, various factors can affect its absorption. They include individual differences, dietary intake, and certain medical conditions. In such cases, supplementation might be necessary.

There are various magnesium supplements with different bioavailability and potential side effects. These are some of the most popular:

Magnesium glycinate

It's often marketed as more accessible to the digestive system than other magnesium supplements and is used to treat symptoms like muscle cramps, fatigue, and headaches. Some studies suggest potential benefits for sleep and inflammation, but more research is needed to confirm these effects. [4]

Magnesium malate

Magnesium malate is thought to be easy on the digestive system and is famous for addressing muscle cramps, fatigue, and headaches—however, the evidence is still emerging. More research is needed to confirm its effectiveness and long-term safety.

» Lean more about the role magnesium plays in sleep, memory, and mood

Magnesium L-threonate

Early research suggests it might enhance magnesium levels in the brain, potentially leading to improved memory and learning. However, the evidence remains limited, and further studies are needed to confirm these benefits and evaluate long-term effects.

Magnesium citrate

Found in citrus fruits and leafy greens, magnesium citrate is highly bioavailable, making it popular for supplementation.

It has mild laxative properties and may cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea, especially in high doses. It also serves as an electrolyte replenisher and has been shown to offer potential benefits like reduced muscle cramps.

Note: While there are many forms of magnesium supplements, each with potential benefits and absorption differences, citrate has been well-researched for its bioavailability and addressing deficiencies. [5, 6]

What's the best form for magnesium supplements?

Magnesium minerals come in various forms, like pills, powders, liquids, and even topical creams. While oral supplementation remains the primary route for addressing deficiencies, the choice of form depends on personal preference and ease of consumption:

  • Pills: Convenient and portable, but some individuals might find them difficult to swallow.
  • Powders: Offer flexibility in dosage and can be mixed with drinks, but might require more preparation and may not be suitable for everyone with gut issues.
  • Liquids: Easier to absorb for some, but may have shorter shelf life and higher cost.

Tip: To minimize potential laxative effects associated with some forms of magnesium, ensure adequate water intake while supplementing.

A woman taking magnesium mineral supplements.

» Check out the best supplements for workout recovery

How to optimize taking magnesium mineral supplements

For most forms, taking magnesium supplements with a meal is recommended to aid absorption and minimize stomach issues. Still, factors like the specific type and individual differences can play a role.

While magnesium supplements offer flexibility in terms of timing, consistency is critical for optimal absorption and consistent results. Taking them simultaneously each day can help ensure you maintain adequate levels.

Tip: Try to space out the intake of magnesium and medications by at least 2-3 hours to minimize potential interactions.

Additional considerations

Deficiencies in certain nutrients can limit absorption. For example, vitamin D activates proteins and regulates channels in the intestines responsible for absorbing magnesium, and a deficiency may prevent these proteins from working efficiently.

Conversely, magnesium intake can decrease calcium absorption in individuals with low calcium levels or osteoporosis. [7] Always consult your doctor if you have concerns about nutrient interactions and optimal dosage.

» Explore the connection between magnesium and testosterone

Get the full picture

While commonly used, serum magnesium tests often miss the mark. They mainly check blood plasma, not reflecting tissue levels or your body's true stores. Even "low normal" levels might mask a hidden deficiency. [8]

That's why InsideTracker's Ultimate plan tests red blood cell (RBC) magnesium. This measures their concentration in your system, about three times higher than in the serum. Research shows that using two magnesium markers may offer more reliable results than trying only one. [9]

By combining this with other biomarker analyses, InsideTracker delivers personalized recommendations. From diet suggestions to tips on boosting nutrient absorption, it can help optimize your magnesium levels and overall well-being.

InsideTracker doesn't diagnose or treat medical conditions. If you have any health-related concerns, please consult your physician.


[1] Dietary reference intakes for calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and fluoride. 1997. doi: 10.17226/5776.

[2] L. M. Dalton, D. M. N. Fhloinn, G. T. Gaydadzhieva, O. M. Mazurkiewicz, H. Leeson, and C. Wright, “Magnesium in pregnancy,” Nutrition Reviews, vol. 74, no. 9, pp. 549–557, Jul. 2016, doi:

[3] A. H. Aal-Hamad, A. M. A. Alawi, M. Kashoub, and H. Falhammar, “Hypermagnesemia in clinical practice,” Medicina-lithuania, vol. 59, no. 7, p. 1190, Jun. 2023, doi: 10.3390/medicina59071190.

[4] G. Schwalfenberg and S. J. Genuis, “The importance of magnesium in clinical healthcare,” Scientifica, vol. 2017, pp. 1–14, Jan. 2017, doi: 10.1155/2017/4179326.

[5] T. Werner et al., “Assessment of bioavailability of Mg from Mg citrate and Mg oxide by measuring urinary excretion in Mg-saturated subjects.,” PubMed, vol. 32, no. 3, pp. 63–71, Aug. 2019, doi: 10.1684/mrh.2019.0457.

[6] “Mg citrate found more bioavailable than other Mg preparations in a randomised, double-blind study,” PubMed, Sep. 01, 2003.

[7] G. K. Schwalfenberg and S. J. Genuis, “The importance of magnesium in clinical healthcare,” Scientifica, vol. 2017, pp. 1–14, 2017. doi:10.1155/2017/4179326

[8] S. L. Volpe, “Magnesium in Disease Prevention and Overall Health,” Adv. Nutr. An Int. Rev. J., vol. 4, no. 3, p. 378S–383S, May 2013.

[9] Y. Ismail, A. A. Ismail, and A. A. A. Ismail, “The underestimated problem of using serum magnesium measurements to exclude magnesium deficiency in adults; a health warning is needed for ‘normal’ results,cclm, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 323–327, Mar. 2010. doi:10.1515/cclm.2010.077