Muscle cramps are excruciating and dreaded by even the most seasoned athletes. We all know that feeling, when they strike out of the blue and leave you curled up in a world of pain.
Luckily, most cramps tend to only last a short time. The pain is caused by sudden, involuntary muscle contractions/spasms, which shorten the muscle and can result in an agonising ‘knot’.
There are numerous reasons why we get cramps. Despite a multitude of studies, no single, exact cause can be found. Instead, muscle cramps are considered to be caused by a range factors: injury, muscle fatigue, dehydration, lack of key electrolytes (potassium, magnesium and calcium), restricted blood flow, nerve compression, exertion with cold, inflexible or tight muscles, excess sweating, medications, and a number of medical conditions.
Hydration for the nation!
Staying properly hydrated and maintaining your electrolyte levels are key factors, in cramp prevention. Electrolytes look after the movement of fluids in and out of your cells, with sodium chloride (salt) at the top of the list.
You lose both water and sodium when you sweat, so it’s important to replace both when you hydrate. Eating salty snack like pretzels or having a sports drink will top you up.
Don’t like drinking water? Go for coconut water or make your own sports drink. Pop some slices of lemon/ginger/orange in a container of water, add a tiny pinch of sea salt and refrigerate overnight. Hey presto! Delicious infused water. Easy!
Pickle water has also been hailed as a great cramp preventative, due to its high level of sodium. Worth a try, but in moderation.
What are the best foods to help prevent a muscle cramp?
The five essential nutrients associated with cramp prevention, starting with the most important are potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium and sodium.
1. Sweet potato for potassium, calcium, magnesium and complex carbs. One medium sized, cooked sweet spud delivers almost 15% of your daily potassium requirements. Containing lots of water, these tasty veggies have six times more calcium than bananas.
2. Avocados for a potassium, fibre, vitamins, anti-inflammatory compounds and healthy fats. Half an avocado gives you a 14% of your daily potassium requirement.
3. Melons for potassium, magnesium, calcium, water and a trace of sodium. Just two slices give you 14% of your potassium needs and they taste fantastic.
4. Legumes for magnesium and fibre. 1 cup of kidney beans packs in 15% of your daily potassium needs. Worried about wind? 1 cup of black beans will deliver an even better 17% and maybe less gas!
5. Wild salmon for potassium, protein and super-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. A yumtastic 6oz fillet delivers 15% of your daily potassium requirements. Pair with leafy greens and roasted sweet potato for a tasty but extremely healthy meal.