If you’re into exercise and fitness, you're probably no stranger to muscle cramp. While it’s something you may put up with now and then, do you really know what they are or what causes them? Muscle cramps are the sudden and involuntary contraction, or twitching, of one or more of your muscles. When this happens, our muscle temporarily ceases up and can cause severe pain. Not only can this be very uncomfortable but can also become quite inconvenient, especially when it comes to physical performance in sport.
There are multiple factors that play a part in causing muscle cramps however, fortunately, there are also a few things you can do to avoid them! Here is the SOS ultimate guide to muscle cramps, covering everything you need to know about these troublesome spasms.
- What causes cramps during exercise
- How to prevent cramps
- How to stop cramps when they happen
- Advice on Stretching
- Food and Drinks that help with muscle cramps
What causes cramps during exercise
Muscle cramps usually only last a few seconds or a couple of minutes, but in more severe cases can last up to 15 minutes. Likewise, in extreme cases, muscle cramps can lead to post-cramping muscle pain or delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS. Now, the real question is: what causes this muscle cramping?
Scientists still can’t seem to pinpoint exactly what causes muscle cramps however it is generally agreed that they are caused by the normal mechanisms that control muscle contraction becoming momentarily impaired. There are various physiological requirements for muscle contraction and relaxation to take place, and it is when these needs are not met that cramping occurs. Some of these ‘requirements’ include: replenishment of electrolytes, well-trained muscles, adequate rest and recovery from exercise and hydration.
One of the main causes of muscle cramps is dehydration. And, this isn’t just for athletes. It is very common for people to wake up with muscle cramps due to dehydration since many of us don’t drink enough water throughout the day.
How to prevent cramps
There are a number of other things you can do to prevent cramps. You should...
- Ensure you are drinking the recommended daily amount of water, and even more when you’re exercising to replace the fluids lost in sweat
- Consider supplements, sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions, like SOS, in order to replenish electrolytes
- Make sure you stretch before and after a workout, please see our advice on this below
- Build training intensity gradually in order to avoid muscle fatigue
- Try massage therapy to help muscles relax after a workout, especially strenuous exercise, such as marathon training
How to stop cramps when they happen
You can put all your efforts into preventing muscle cramps but sometimes they are unavoidable. So, what do you do when muscle cramps strike?
Generally, cramps do not last very long and will disappear without you having to do anything. However, for cramps that last slightly longer, you can try stretching and massaging the contracting muscle in order to ease the pain.
Note that pain killers will not help relieve muscle cramps in the moment since they take too long to work. You can however take paracetamol or ibuprofen after cramping in order to help ease muscle tenderness afterwards, such as for DOMS.
Advice on stretching
Studies show that stretching before and after a workout can significantly decrease your chances of cramping during and after exercise. For example, for runners, we suggest starting your workout with a range of dynamic stretches to improve range of motion and loosen muscles as, in fact, static stretching before workout can lead to tissue damage. Some butt kicks, high knees and leg swings should do the job! Static stretches can then be performed after a workout once you’ve got the blood pumping to your muscles and there’s less risk of injury.
Although it is important to stretch before and after exercise, it is important to practice regular stretching too to prevent cramping. Why not try adding a yoga session to your weekly training plan or start the day with a quick 15 minute yoga flow? Yoga is a great way to stretch out, relieve muscle tension, promote healthy blood circulation, all without putting too much strain on your muscles.
Food and drinks that help with muscle cramps
A great way to prevent cramps is to introduce more food and drink that are rich in magnesium and potassium to your diet. Deficiencies in these nutrients are linked to muscle cramps. Magnesium and potassium can be found in a range of fruit and vegetables, including leafy greens, avocados, bananas, black beans and many more.
The key is to also stay hydrated so drinking a sufficient amount of water is important. However, we recommend taking hydration one step further. Studies show that simply drinking water alone while dehydrated makes muscles more susceptible to cramp whereas drinking water with electrolytes, decreases this chance.
SOS Hydration contains just the right mix of sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and other important nutrients to do just this. And, it will not only help prevent cramps, but is proven to increase your physical performance by up to 20%. Why not give SOS a go and see the results for yourself?