Learning about Muscle Cramps and How to Avoid Them
December 03, 2014
Cramps are a reality for a lot of athletes. They are painful, often seem to appear out of nowhere and can lead to further injury in the middle of exercise and daily activities. Nobody likes cramps. But anyone can get them. And they are a PAIN (please forgive the pun). But just like the common cold, modern medicine can’t seem to find a cure.
Understanding the Cause and Effects
Muscle cramps are sudden and painful muscle spasms that cause your muscles to contract uncontrollably and involuntarily. They can be single occurrences or occur repetitively over a few minutes to a few hours. The duration of muscle cramps can vary from person to person and from experience to experience. Most often, they occur on or near joints and areas of your body that see a lot of repeat movement and flexing. In some cases, you can even see the hardening and contracting of the muscle through your skin.
No exact cause of muscle cramps is known but there are certain factors and key indicators that put you at a higher risk for cramping. These include:
· Low electrolyte levels (sodium & potassium)
· Lack of stretching before rigorous movement
· Lack of cooling off periods after rigorous movement
· Little time spent on physical rest or recovery
· Genetics (Yes, to a certain degree - you can blame it on mom & dad.)
· Age (The older you get, the more your body complains.)
· Previous injury & disease
In observing all of the common denominators, the experts have come up with a few preventative measures to take to avoid cramps. While genetics, age, and a history of injury or disease are not entirely avoidable, the first four points on the list of common denominators are. So if you want to avoid painful muscle pains and spasms, try these 5 easy suggestions:
Stay Hydrated. Our bodies simply operate better with hydration. Up to 60% of the adult body is composed of water on an intracellular level. Replenishing that supply is an essential survival technique that many of us overlook or contradict by consuming high levels of caffeine and other diuretics that leach the water out of our bodies.
Practice Proper Nutrition. Staying within healthy levels of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium in general can be a big help because these elements allow your muscles to conduct the electrical signals used in the body to induce movement. Consuming sports drinks to give you an extra boost of electrolytes before exercise may also assist in avoiding cramps. Incorporating other essential nutritional elements such as calcium and magnesium in your diet will also improve your performance and help your muscles relax—preventing the prolonged contractions that cause cramps.
Don’t Go Crazy Over Low Carb Diets. It’s true that overeating carbohydrates can lead to the storage of excess body fats. However, if your body isn’t taking in enough carbs to function and storing at least a little—then it has nothing to burn for energy in the form of glycogen when you exercise. That means your body will wear out faster and fatigue- interfering with its ability to maintain and carry out the electrical pulses needed to initiate movement and increasing the risk of muscle cramps.
Always Warm Up and Cool Down. Your exercise routine should always allow for 10-15 minutes of stretching and full range body movement before and after your core workout. The warm up allows your muscles to slowly expand and contract- testing and initiating those essential cellular connections- in preparation for more rigorous activity. The purpose of the cool down period is to slow down the flow of electrical and chemical exchanges between the cells of your body so that you don’t short circuit your cells—causing them to react with pain or spasms.
Make Rest a Priority. Exercising is great! But you are going to burn out your body very quickly by staying active 24/7. Sleep and periods of physical rest are greatly important to your health in general- and providing your muscles in particular with recovery time. Brief periods of inactivity during sleep or idle interests like reading or watching television is about the closest our bodies get to a reset button.