What the Cramp?
Muscle cramps can seriously cramp your workout. One minute everything is fine and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a muscle cramp rears its ugly head.
A cramp is a sudden, involuntary muscle contraction that sharply tightens and shortens a muscle. It’s usually temporary and non-damaging, but can be very painful. Cramps are a nightmare – but they’re common, especially during exercise.
But, why do muscle cramps happen anyways?
Although the exact cause can be a challenge to pinpoint, cramping is often the result of muscle overuse or strain from exercise, dehydration, mineral depletion within the body, and heat. Despite the various reasons these pesky cramps happen, the million-dollar question is: Are they preventable?
The answer is yes, there are things that you can do to help lessen your chances of suffering from muscle cramps. Prevention is key!
Muscle Overuse or Strain
If you are going from no movement to sudden, extreme movement, your body may not be happy to go along for the ride–especially if you are expecting it to go from zero to sixty in an instant. When it comes to exercise, consider the value of a warm-up. Yes, something to help bridge the gap between your sedentary life and the point at which your body to get moving. Foam rolling and gentle, dynamic movements let your body’s tissues know that there is going to be a more, intense movement to come. This may not eliminate that pesky pain but it can greatly reduce its chances of occurring.
Water makes up about 60% of your body weight. Your body needs water to survive. A lack of water in your body can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions which can make you tired, have less energy, and cause muscle cramps.
To prevent dehydration, you need to drink an adequate amount of water each day. There are many different opinions on how much water you should be drinking every day.
The rule of thumb is you NEED to be consuming 6 x your body weight in ounces of water per day, or roughly half your body weight in ounces. The more active you are, the more water your body is going to need. Consider adding a drop of lemon essential oil, fresh strawberries, or cucumbers to your water to help your body absorb the hydration more effectively. So, drink up–water that is–to keep those muscle cramps at bay.
One way to stop cramps is to eat enough of these key nutrients: potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.
Potassium is a critical mineral for muscle contraction. It’s often a go-to fuel for those who like to hit the gym. Other sources of potassium include apricots, oranges, lentils, salmon and sweet or baked potatoes with the skin.
Magnesium is a key mineral for relaxation. Foods containing magnesium include avocado, nuts and seeds, bananas, whole grains (brown rice, cereal), dark chocolate, and dried fruit. Who doesn’t love a good excuse to buy some chocolate?
All too often we are worried about getting too much sodium. However, in all honesty, your body needs sodium. And, if you exercise, you are most likely losing quite a bit of that essential mineral. So, it is important to consider replenishing your lost sodium with a healthy post-workout drink, a vegetable juice drink, a few carrots, or even some pretzels.
Calcium is critical when it comes to developing and maintaining strong bones and muscles. Although milk is often the go-to for people when they think calcium, consider selecting yogurt, kale, broccoli, tofu, or almonds instead. They will also provide with you a great source of calcium and have less sugar when compared to milk!
If you do find yourself suddenly under attack from a muscle cramp, the following exercises might provide you with some relief.
- Stretch — Engage in light stretches that are focused around the muscle groups that are cramping.
- Massage — Lengthening the cramping muscle by using gentle massage techniques may help reduce the duration and severity of the cramp. A foam roller is also another great option to use!
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