Muscle cramps — an athlete’s biggest foe. No matter how long you’ve been at your sport, cramps can spring up out of nowhere and completely throw you off your game.
The recovery period for many athletes is often marked with painful leg cramps, whether it’s a series of lightning-bolt pain or a charley horse they can’t tame.
Understanding how muscle cramps occur is the first step toward preventing them. With a closer look at the underlying causes, you can start to identify your muscle cramp risks and prepare accordingly.
Here’s how to not only get to the bottom of your cramps but treat and prevent them as well.
What causes a muscle cramp, exactly?
If you participate in any sport, you know that hydration is everything. In addition to keeping your endurance levels stable, it can also prevent excessive muscle fatigue and those dreaded cramps.
The reason why athletes get muscle cramps from dehydration is decreased blood flow.
When your body lacks enough fluid, your blood circulation slows down. At the same time, the body shifts its priority to protecting your most vital organs, like your heart, lungs, and liver.
This means other parts of the body, namely muscles and tendons, receive less fluid and blood. As a result, they are more likely to cramp up, sending painful spasms shooting up your legs, arms, stomach, or anywhere else.
When you use any muscle, it usually converts oxygen into energy aerobically. But when we need more fuel for the moment, such as high-intensity exercise, muscles use glucose instead.
Through a process called glycolysis, your body uses glucose stored in its muscles to rapidly create energy.
This process, however, can lead to a buildup of lactic acid. Lactic acid can build up and quickly cause your muscles to experience extreme fatigue after a workout.
A buildup of lactic acid can even lead to a condition known as lactic acidosis, which can be life-threatening for people who take prescription medications or have diabetes.
In addition to painful muscle cramps, signs of too much lactic acid include rapid breathing, nausea, and headache.
3. Muscle Fatigue
If you train frequently, you are more likely to experience muscle fatigue and leg cramps. Muscle fatigue is common among athletes who are training for an event and amateurs who are new to a sport or activity.
You’re most likely to experience cramps from muscle fatigue after working out. So, when you get off a bike or finish a long run, the cramps could suddenly start without any warning signs.
Trembling, shaking, and soreness all indicate fatigue, and it’s crucial to pace yourself and trust your body’s signs.
Remember that you need to follow a training regime that respects your current athletic ability. This includes having rest days for muscle recovery that ultimately increase your strength and endurance levels.
4. Nerve Compression
Compressed nerves in the lumbar spine can cause leg cramps. There are five spinal nerves that can become compressed in a condition called lumbar stenosis: T12, L1, L2, L3, and L4.
Nerve injuries to any portion of the spine can lead to pain and cramps while exercising. If you have experienced any back injuries or suffer from nerve compression, you should modify your athletic activities to protect your spinal health.
Lack of essential minerals — like magnesium, sodium, and potassium — can lead to muscle cramps. Your muscles require these minerals in the form of electrolytes to perform their job without issue.
Eating a poor diet or not getting enough minerals can put you at a higher risk of getting cramps out of the blue.
This is why electrolytes are so important for athletes.
They balance the amount of water in your body and ensure that the proper amount of nutrients are evenly distributed to your muscles.
Before you undergo any major sports event or activity, it’s important to make sure you’ve been properly hydrated and have enough essential minerals in your system.
How can you prevent muscle cramps?
Stretching target muscle areas before and after a workout can lower the risk of muscle cramps.
You should hold a stretch for at least 10 seconds, but some athletes stretch a muscle group for up to 3 minutes at a time.
Make sure to use a combination of static and dynamic stretches to properly warm up muscles and help them recover after exertion.
Athletes need both types of stretches to decrease stiffness, improve flexibility, and prevent injury.
2. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
You should drink 500 to 591ml of water before you exercise and follow up with at least 236ml no fewer than 30 minutes after exercising.
FixxNutrition’s Fuel X is key to preventing dehydration by replenishing vital electrolytes and keeping athletes like cyclists energised with the right amount of carbohydrates to prevent cramping.
Athletes should pay close attention to how much fluid they use during any type of physical activity. If you are performing moderate to high-intensity exercise, then you’ll want to calculate your sweat rate and replenish the appropriate amount of fluids per every kg of body weight you lost.
3. Use a Cramp Solution
Cramps can come out of nowhere, even if you’ve taken all the necessary precautions. This is why carrying a safe, natural solution whenever you partake in physical activity is a good idea.
CrampFix® by FixxNutrition is a 100% all-natural, vegan solution that can stop muscle cramps in 2 minutes or less.
You might be familiar with pickle juice for muscle cramps. CrampFix® takes the same densely-packed electrolytes found in the vinegar brine and packs it into a high-performance, athlete-centered cramp solution.
CrampFix® contains electrolytes your muscles need to stop cramping, while the vinegary, proprietory formula activates an anti-cramping reflex in the oropharyngeal region (middle of the throat).
CrampFix® is better than plain pickle juice thanks to its expert-designed, rapid-relief formula. It was originally designed for professional rugby players, but now, thousands of athletes throughout Australia and the world turn to Fixx Nutrition to stop muscle cramping fast.
Want to learn more? Click here to read the Fixx Nutrition story.
Find your cramp relief today — shop the CrampFix® sports products here.