June 3, 2021
Nutrition and Muscle cramps
by Mona Jauhar RDN, LD
Whether it's a charley horse in the middle of night or a back spasm while doing a house chore, muscle cramps just come unannounced and don’t leave easily. While exercise-associated muscle cramps are the most frequent condition requiring medical/therapeutic intervention during sports, muscle cramps can result in continuous, involuntary, painful, and localized contraction of an entire muscle group, individual single muscle, or select muscle fibers. We don’t completely know why muscles tighten up involuntarily. Probable reasons could be exercise, pregnancy, electrolyte imbalances, nerve compression, and diminished blood supply to the muscle. Some research shows that deficiencies in nutrients like magnesium, vitamin D, and certain B vitamins may increase the chances of muscle cramps, yet randomly taking a magnesium supplement or drinking sports drinks does not help. Nutrition does.
What causes cramps
Exercising without properly warming up the muscles can lead to cramps. Reduced blood flow to the muscles also can cause cramps. Dehydration and low levels of electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, or calcium can cause cramps. People with neurological conditions get muscle cramps more easily and so do those taking certain medications, like diuretics, that can cause both dehydration and mineral imbalances.
Food to fight soreness
Since many muscle cramps are related to electrolyte imbalance, foods that are high in electrolytes, like potassium, can be helpful in preventing them. And we aren’t just talking about bananas. The same goes for sodium. Here are our favorites:
- Foods like avocados, potatoes and leafy greens, also pack a potassium punch.
- Get your sodium from unprocessed foods like Himalayan rock salt, feta or cheddar cheese, beetroot, celery, carrots, pesto, smoked meats and fish and olives.
- Calcium plays a crucial role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, including in your heart and blood vessels. Have dairy, pink salmon, dark, leafy greens, nuts and seeds and fortified tofu.
- Melons have it all: loads of potassium, a good amount of magnesium and calcium, a little sodium, and a lot of water.
- A review of randomized clinical trials found that consuming up to 4 g of ginger post intense exercise can reduce muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery.
- Curcumin can work when used on an “as needed” basis, with even a single dose (150-200 mg) showing effectiveness for muscle soreness following exercise.
Other things that help
- Stretch -- Engage in light stretches that are focused around the major and minor muscle groups that are cramping. A physio or exercise physiologist can help guide you on the best stretches.
- Massage -- Lengthening the cramping muscle by using gentle massage may help reduce the duration and severity of the cramp.
- This surprisingly simple tool can be valuable if you suffer from muscle soreness and cramps. Using a foam roller after exercise can reduce muscle soreness and improve athletic performance the following day.