Cramps or more specifically, muscle cramps associated with exercise can be defined as a painful and involuntary contraction of a muscle. Having a cramp in the middle of a 10 km run can be an uncomfortable experience that can lead to a decrease in your performance.
SO WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF MUSCLE CRAMPS?
Cramps are often thought to be caused by a lack of certain nutrients such as potassium, an electrolyte that plays an important role in cells; surely you have heard that you have to eat a banana when you suffer from a cramp?
Although this is one of the theories that try to explain muscle cramps, recent scientific research indicates that this is rather due to an alteration of neuromuscular function related to muscle fatigue. Other theories include dehydration, environmental factors such as heat, stretching time, and so on.
NUTRITIONAL ELEMENTS TO REACH THE MAXIMUM OF YOUR CAPABILITIES
c.c. : Courses Thématiques
Considering the many theories outlined above, here are three aspects of nutrition that can help maximize your performance and can potentially help prevent cramps.
1. Maintain adequate energy levels with the diet.
2. Ensure an optimal level of hydration. For more information on hydration, read the previous article on this topic by my colleague Julie.
3. Have adequate electrolyte intake. Calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium are four electrolytes involved in the proper functioning and contraction of your muscles.
WHERE DOES THE ELECTROLYTES HIDE?
Here are the tables containing the recommended amounts and foods where to find these electrolytes:
For healthy people aged 19 to 70:
The recommended calcium intake is 1000 mg per day (and 1200 mg for women 51 to 70 years old). Calcium also plays an important role in bone health. Important food sources include dairy products and some green vegetables.
Calcium Table: Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Sources of Calcium
The recommended intake of magnesium is 310-420 mg per day, depending on your age and gender. The best sources of magnesium are legumes, nuts and seeds, fish and whole grains.
Magnesium table: Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Sources of Magnesium
Sodium is involved in maintaining fluid balance and blood pressure. Sodium needs vary depending on your level of exercise and perspiration. It is therefore recommended to consult a dietitian-nutritionist for more information.
The recommended intake of potassium is 4700 mg per day. To meet your needs, consume a variety of foods from different food groups.
Potassium table: Dietitians of Canada: Dietary Sources of Potassium
STRATEGY TO ADOPT
The exact cause of muscle cramps associated with exercise is not clear, but there are probably several factors involved. This means that treatments and prevention strategies may vary. Enjoy a wide variety of foods and work with a dietitian or nutritionist to help you achieve your goals and maximize your results!
Would you like to receive more personalized advice to your reality? Do not hesitate to contact a registered dietitian in your area to see how she can help you!
Armstrong, S. & Cross, T. 2013. Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Medicine Today. Récupéré de : http://www.stadiumclinic.com.au/pdf/exercise-associated-muscle-cramps.pdf
Hall, A. Muscle Cramps: Avoid at all Costs. Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA). Récupéré de : https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/muscle-cramps-avoid-at-all-costs/
Miller, K. C. 2015. Rethinking the Cause of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramping: Moving beyond Dehydration and Electrolyte Losses. American College of Sports Medicine. Récupéré de : http://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2015/09000/Rethinking_the_Cause_of_Exercise_Associated_Muscle.5.aspx
Nelson, N. L & Churilla, J. R. 2016. A Narrative Review of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: Factors that Contribute to Neuromuscular Fatigue and Management Implications. Muscle & Nerve. Récupéré de : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27159592