You hear them being called various names from stitches to charlie horses .. but no matter what you call them, cramps are always terrible.
Muscle spasms can ruin any workout, impede performance, and are generally just a massive pain in the butt. If you've ever been so unlucky that you've had to deal with full body cramping, you'll know the pain: the excruciating and unforgivable pain that wakes you up in the middle of the night when one of your calves feels like it's going to rip out of your skin any minute.
Calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominals, and even the muscles in the arms are the most prone ones to cramping. Fortunately for you, there are a few things that can be done to help prevent muscle cramps. If you're already cramping, there are also things you can do to stop them. Let's get right into it.
Why Do We Cramp?
Muscle cramps are strong, painful and involuntary contractions or tightenings of a muscle. These often occur in the lower body and are never fun.
Cramps normally happen because of prolonged physical labor or activity; especially when it's done in a warm climate. While some cramps can be caused by certain types of medication (which is something that is largely out of your control), there are plenty of things you can try to do to prevent the cramps and stop them from being a nuisance.
While cramps are harmless in most cases, there may be an underlying medical issue that's making causing you to cramp. Some of these include:
Poor circulation - The arteries in your legs narrow, slowing down the delivery of blood to your legs. This normally goes away after you stop performing physical exercise. You can try compression socks or ask your doctor about how you go about improving your circulation in the best way possible.
Nerve compression - Nerves in your spine get compressed and can cause a cramp-like sensation in your legs. Generally, the longer you walk, the worse it feels. See a chiropractor or try an inversion table to help loosen the area around the compression.
Mineral depletion - One of the most common reasons we cramp is because we have too little potassium, calcium, or magnesium in our diet. Using diuretic medication for something like hypertension can also deplete these minerals.
How Do You Prevent Cramps?
Now that we're clear on what a cramp is and why it happens, let's dive deeper into what we can do to prevent them from happening in the first place.
First and foremost; make sure you're drinking plenty of water. Even the slightest bit of dehydration can cause muscle spasms. A lot more people than you would expect walk around being dehydrated, which leads to lethargy along with other symptoms that are detrimental to performance.
Electrolytes. Make sure you're filled up on electrolytes. You have to have them in your system. Electrolytes control a whole host of bodily functions. We need to be on top of our electrolyte game on a consistent basis rather than trying to "catch up on them." Drink a sports drink with electrolytes, drink some coconut water, or eat a banana or an avocado. All of these are loaded with potassium and sodium, which are the main minerals you need to have in check to prevent cramping.
Try a multivitamin and - mineral supplement. Using a multivitamin will help boost your levels of magnesium and zinc as well as vitamins B, D, and E. While these don't directly affect whether you cramp or not, keeping up on them can indeed help decrease the likelihood of cramping.
Warm up and cool down. Don't neglect your warmup, don't rush through it, and make sure you cool down properly as well. Getting your body temperature up, your nervous system ready, and your muscles prepared for activity ahead is important to keeping cramps at bay. Move before and after you train for optimal performance. This is also called active recovery.
What Do You Do If You Are Already Cramping?
So you went and sweat out all of your electrolytes and you haven't properly rehydrated... It happens to all of us - even the best of us. if you're dealing with cramps, you're probably also wondering what you can do to stop them, right?
The first thing you should do is start rehydrating and replenish your electrolytes. You need to maintain your intake of electrolytes throughout the day; eat a good variety of fruits and vegetables yo make sure you keep your nutrients up at all times.
Next up: stretch out the area in questions. Help the muscle relax and feel the grip of death that it has on you let up. Stretch, foam roll, or even treat yourself to a nice massage.
Everyone experiences cramps from time to time. The actions you take pre- and post-workout are going to dictate the likelihood of you getting them.
Keep drinking your water, replenish your electrolytes consistently, and eat a variety of nutritious foods on a daily basis.
You can also try supplementing your normal diet with a good multivitamin/multimineral, and be sure to do proper warm-ups and cool downs as part of your regular exercise routine as this will help your blood shuttle the essential nutrients to your muscles.
If you're already experiencing cramping and need to stay in the game, drink some coconut water. Coconut water contains around 600mg of potassium and 252mg of sodium per 250 ml but may vary widely depending on the manufacturer. It’s also got natural sugar in it that works well to replenish energy stores that are emptied out during physical exercise.
Stretch the area that's cramping and try to relax.
If you follow these tips and still have cramps, please do yourself a favor and get it looked at by a doctor. There could be some medical complications that also could potentially affect your heart. Remember: your heart is also a muscle.