The misery of muscle cramps

There are very few people that can say they’ve never experienced the agony of muscle cramps. It doesn’t matter how fit or unfit, how old or young you are, you are almost certain to suffer at some time. So what are muscle cramps and how can we prevent them?


What is a cramp?

A cramp is a sudden and involuntary contraction in a muscle (quite often in the legs) that can occur at any time but often during exercise or in the middle of the night. Although they have no long-term effects, muscle cramps cause severe pain temporarily and last for a few seconds or up to 15 minutes.


What causes cramps?

The common causes of muscle cramps are overuse, dehydration, strain or holding a position for too long. Some cramps are related to blood supply, nerve compression and mineral deficiency and unfortunately they occur more frequently as we get older.


How can we prevent cramps?

The best ways to prevent muscle cramps are to stretch well and stay hydrated before, during and after exercise. Fluids help your muscles to contract and relax so staying hydrated will replace the fluid lost whilst exercising and keep your muscles happy. If your cramps take hold at night, a few leg stretches before bed can help.


There are also certain foods that contain key nutrients – potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium (electrolytes) – that can reduce muscle cramps.


Bananas – a popular, quick choice for cramp relief as they are a great source of potassium, magnesium and calcium.


Sweet potatoes – also provide potassium, calcium and magnesium, in fact they have up to six times more calcium than bananas.


Avocados – with twice as much potassium as a banana or sweet potato, these beauties also keep your heart healthy.


Beans and Lentils – these are packed with magnesium and they’re high in fibre, which can help ease menstrual cramps, control blood sugar and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol.


Melons – loads of electrolytes on board along with lots of water. As you sweat, your body flushes out sodium and water – melon can replace these essentials.


Milk – a great source of electrolytes and good for hydration too. Milk is also packed with protein to help repair muscles after a workout.


Nuts and Seeds – many are packed with magnesium, try a handful of sunflower seeds or almonds.


Green leafy veg – kale, spinach and broccoli are rich in calcium and magnesium. Eating foods high in calcium can help relieve pain from periods too.


My final tip is to stick to the water for maximum hydration and don’t reach for sugary sports drinks. If you incorporate some of these yummy super foods into your diet, you will get all the electrolytes you need – and will hopefully keep those muscle cramps at bay.


Find out more about healthy eating and exercise at Gemma Pearce Fitness

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