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How to Prevent Muscle Cramps

Dear Dr.Kim

I have begun playing in a soccer league and have started to experience muscle cramps. I am usually fairly active and have good fitness. Is there anything I can do with my diet or supplements to help my cramps?

M.B. Victoria


Dear M.B.

Muscle cramps can be a real pain but the good news is that you should be able to find relief from your suffering by making some nutritional adjustments. Under normal movement, muscles move through cycles of contracting followed by relaxation. Muscle cramps occur when the muscle (or muscle fibers) contract involuntarily and forcibly without releasing. If you have ever experienced one, you will know that the impact of a cramp is sudden and unexpected and can take your breath away.

There are several nutrition depletions that contribute to muscle cramping and/or muscle tightness correcting these deficits can resolve cramping issues. The main categories of nutrition to consider are your hydration habits, mineral status, and carbohydrate intake. It is common for people to be aware that fluid intake, or lack of it, contributes to cramping. However, in many instances the sufferer is drinking a lot of fluid and because their mineral status is low, they simply void a lot of water. They drink a lot and run to the washroom a lot … missing the goal of hydrating the tissues.

The minerals –magnesium, calcium, sodium, and potassium are intimately involved in muscle contraction and the key to holding the water and ensuring good hydration status. More specifically, calcium elicits contraction and magnesium allows relaxation. The electrolytes (a term given to charged minerals) Sodium and Potassium help direct fluid dynamics in and out of cells and thus when they are balanced they deliver optimal conditions for muscular activity.

Assuming you are taking in an adequate amount of fluids (approx. 2 litres per day), you should begin by making sure you are consuming vegetables at least 4-5 times per day. Vegetables are rich in minerals, which, will help your recovery from exercise and help you maintain hydration. If required, consider taking a magnesium-calcium supplement at dinner with food and please note that this is different from a calcium-magnesium. In your case, I am suggesting a supplement that is richer in magnesium than calcium as opposed to the reverse. These two minerals should be kept in relative balance to one another and favouring magnesium will aid muscle relaxation and can prevent cramping. If you are a heavy sweater, consider taking electrolytes around training sessions. They can be added to your fluid or ingested in capsule form. Individual recommendations would be dependent on sweat rate, and exercise duration and environment. Finally, check that you are taking in carbohydrate around your exercise, in particular. Nutrition trends have generally made many people low carbohydrate focused and this can catch up with you –when you lead an active life. Carbohydrates carry nutrients that are active in energy production and muscle dynamics. If muscle is carbohydrate-depleted it is more prone to injury and even breakdown to create some carbohydrate. Do your best to eat an appropriate balance of carbohydrate, paying attention to sandwich them around your soccer games and practices.

I hope these suggestions help you squelch the cramps.

“Health from the inside out.”

Dr. Kimberly McQueen BSc, ND is a Naturopathic Physician in Victoria, BC. In addition to her clinic work she has been a consultant to the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, Camosun College, Rugby Canada and Rowing Canada. P:778.433.4935 and . Kim McQueen is one of the Co-founders of the nourishing Supershake, Rumble. 

Visit Dr. Kim McQueen's website