One minute you’re perfectly fine and then suddenly, a jarring sharp pain sets in bringing you to a complete stop! Muscle cramps are an athlete’s nightmare and although you may have heard many “cures”, they are seemingly far more complex.
While current research is expanding beyond only muscle to also examine the nervous system’s role in cramping, we know that athletic performance still requires healthy fluid and electrolyte balance. Ensuring adequate intake of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium is important for prevention of muscle cramps, and for ruling out other potential causes.
Sodium is important for fluid balance and blood pressure. Sodium balance is tightly regulated by the body with mechanisms to secrete more during times of excess consumption and retention when intake is low. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend 2.3 grams or less of sodium intake per day. Although inadequate intake is unlikely, ensuring adequate sodium intake can be important for replacing that lost through sweat.
Potassium is found in all cells including muscle and nerve cells and is important for coordinating electrical impulses including that of the heart. The recommendation is to consume 4,200mg of potassium daily which can be achieved through fresh vegetables, potatoes, and fruits like oranges, berries, melon, and bananas.
Calcium plays an important role in muscle contraction of the heart, skeletal muscle, and smooth muscle contraction of blood vessels, intestines, and in the generation of nerve impulses. You need 1,000-1,200mg of calcium per day depending on your gender and age. In addition to low-fat dairy, spinach, kale, and white beans are other good sources.
Magnesium plays a role in bone health, energy production, and is vital for muscle contraction. Muscle twitching, weakness, and cramping can be symptoms of a magnesium deficiency. Most adults require 320mg per day which can be obtained with foods like lentils, nuts, and quinoa.
Sarah Mattison Berndt, MS, RD, CD
Owner Fit Fresh Cuisine & Hybrid Athletic Club