Cramping can hit anyone, anytime, and for reasons you may not always expect. We often associate cramping with athletes, or women’s menstrual cycles, but in reality, cramps can affect children, adults, and the elderly alike.
The causes of cramps vary, with some being linked to physical activity, holding a position for a long time, dehydration, and even diet.
Today, we’ll dig deeper into the role diet places in muscle health, how it can cause cramps, and healthy diet choices you can make that will reduce cramping from any cause.
Cramps Affect Everyone
Cramps can affect people of all ages, from babies through senior citizens. Research suggests that up to 60% of adults experience muscle cramps on occasion. Cramps can last for just a few seconds, or endure for as long as 15 minutes.
How Cramps Happen
A cramp is caused by sudden, involuntary muscle contraction. This contraction can be painful as it causes the muscle to lock in place. This happens without any voluntary input from your brain, which means they tighten too much and cause pain.
Cramps can happen in any part of the body, but they’re most common in the legs, especially the calf muscles.
What happens during cramps?
During a muscle cramp, the muscles in the affected area suddenly contract (shorten). When they activate spontaneously, you can’t control them, and they become much tighter than usual. The resulting pain can be debilitating, and you may not be able to walk or move the affected muscle for a period of time.
Some people experience night leg cramps, which can be so severe that they wake them out of sleep.
During menstrual cycles, women can experience cramping from uterine contractions that make them feel extremely ill and even require them to call in sick to work. Menstrual cramps are usually accompanied by other systems during a period, like fatigue and nausea.
Most muscle cramps are harmless, and they resolve on their own with time. Certain health conditions and even some prescription medications can increase the risk of muscle cramps.
Types of Cramps
Here are four types of muscle cramps you may experience. These cramp types are broken down based on their causes and how they affect muscles.
- True Cramps. A “true” muscle cramp involves an entire single muscle or a group of muscles that work together. The main cause is hyperexcitability, or overuse, such as prolonged physical activity.
- Rest Cramps. A rest cramp occurs when your body isn’t active, such as when you’re lying down or asleep.
- Low Calcium or Magnesium Cramps. A lack of calcium or magnesium can reduce a muscle’s excitably, or its ability to respond to demand. These minerals play a vital role in muscle health and many other processes.
- Low Blood Flow Cramp. Poor circulation can cause cramping in any part of the body, because the affected muscles are deprived of the oxygen-rich blood they need to work properly.
Causes of Cramps
There are many reasons why someone can experience muscle cramps, and we’ll take a look at each one more closely.
- Dehydration. Without drinking enough water, muscles lack the electrolytes they need to function normally; dehydration also makes it harder for your body to deliver the electrolytes to muscles, so you’re more likely to experience cramps if you don’t drink enough water.
- Poor diet. A lack of nutrients in your diet can result in muscle cramps, especially if you aren’t eating enough calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
- Low electrolyte levels. Electrolytes are minerals that help your body maintain a fluid balance and regulate many processes. Without enough electrolytes, muscles may not get the nourishment they need, making them more prone to cramping.
- Hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid can result in hormonal imbalances that increase the risk of muscle cramps.
- Menstruation. Both premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and the regular menstruation cycle can cause painful cramps; these are caused by the presence of hormonal substances called prostaglandins that trigger uterine contractions.
- Nerve conditions. A pinched nerve or nerve compression can cause neurons to misfire, which leads to muscle cramps. These cramps are usually isolated in a particular area controlled by the nerves.
How Diet Can Help With Cramp Pain
A healthy, balanced diet is the key to unlocking your body’s fullest potential. Many people simply think that if they’re eating regularly, then their diet is likely fine. In reality, diets have to be rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains to give your body everything it needs.
Changing your diet can lead to major shifts in how you feel mentally and physically. You might notice you have more energy throughout the day, you sleep better, and your muscles cramp a lot less frequently. If you do experience cramps, they’ll be less likely to be severe or last a long time.
The main reason diet helps cramps is by infusing your body with essential minerals and electrolytes, as well as hydration. Most fruits and vegetables are rich in water, so they actually help hydrate your body while giving you a hearty dose of helping vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
If you decide to alter your diet to be more muscle-healthy, start by assessing your daily intake. Most Australians only get about half of the recommended amount each day, which is two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables.
Sometimes, the issue may not be what you’re eating. It could be that the quantity is not enough to help your body work at its highest capacity. This applies whether you’re a marathon runner or office worker. Even children feel the side-effects of a limited diet, despite their parents’ efforts to make sure their meals are all healthy.
Luckily, there are some cramp-busting foods that can help you ward off the pain and nourish your body in the process.
The Best Foods to Prevent Muscle Cramps
You’ll want to aim for foods that have ample electrolytes: sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
The average banana has about 450 mg of potassium, 32 mg of magnesium, and 12 g of calcium. These fruits are commonly recommended for cramp-relief, and they’re an accessible food you can easily enjoy alone, in a bowl of cereal, or blended in a smoothie.
A single avocado has a whopping 975 mg of potassium! Potassium helps all muscles contract properly, including your heart. It’s one of the most valuable minerals you can eat, so enjoy eating it on a salad, in a sandwich, or even sliced up by itself as a tasty snack.
All melons are incredibly hydrating, full of potassium, and have some sodium. Eating a cup of freshly cubed melon before a workout can help prevent muscle cramps.
Kale is rich in both calcium and magnesium, and widely recommended for treating period cramps naturally. The extra boost of calcium can help soothe and shorten muscle contractions. Anyone can benefit from adding more kale into their diet. If you aren’t a major fan of the greens, toss a handful into a fruit smoothie!
A 133-gram cup of cubed sweet potatoes has 33 mg of magnesium, 40 mg of calcium, and 448 mg of potassium. These root vegetables are also filled with B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and more. They’re easy to make in many ways, like air-fried sweet potato fries that are a great side dish or even a standalone lunch.
Beet greens (the leaves on top of the vegetable) are loaded with nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. The beets themselves also contain nitrates, compounds made of oxygen and nitrogen that can improve circulation by improving blood vessel function.
Pickle juice is a surprising muscle cramp fix that delivers a high dose of electrolytes. It’s concentration makes it easier for the body to absorb the minerals right away, which drastically reduces how long muscle cramps last.
Chugging pickle juice straight from the jar may not be appealing. That’s why we made CrampFix, an all-natural muscle cramp reliever. CrampFix mouth spray can alleviate muscle cramps in the hands, feet, legs, fingers, or toes in as little as 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
How Fixx Alleviates Muscle Cramps
Our formula uses only natural, vegan, gluten-free ingredients to deliver all-in-one muscle cramp relief. Our QuickFix shot can be taken before, during, and after physical activity to help you ward off cramps, treat them rapidly, and prevent them from coming back.
The best part is that CrampFix products aren’t just for athletes. Anyone who experiences muscle cramps can benefit from the science-backed ingredient formula. We use the same rapid dose of electrolytes found in pickle juice to make a product that tastes great and delivers quick relief.
Read more from our blog for more tips on healthy living and sports training.
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