Muscle cramps. If you’ve ever had them, they’re terrible. They strike without warning, are incredibly painful during the attack, and can sometimes cause damage that lingers for days afterwards.
Your body is trying to tell you something. Let me translate. Your body says, “Hey, your muscles are not getting the electrolytes they need to be able to coordinate proper contraction for one or more reasons!”
Possibility 1: Body says, “Your electrolytes are imbalanced.“
More Signs: Rings fitting tightly, swollen ankles, and high blood pressure can all be signs from your body you are out balance with electrolytes.
The Reason: When you’re sweating out more water, sodium, potassium, and magnesium than you’re taking in, your body can struggle to have the electrical coordination to contract and relax muscles properly. As a result, muscles can get “stuck” in a contracted position, or struggle to relax completely (spasm), almost like a bad cell phone connection. It’s important to BALANCE the electrolytes. So if you’re too high in one, it can throw off your body’s electrolyte balance and possibly result in cramping.
The Fix: Think through if you’ve been too high – or too LOW – on your recommended electrolyte intakes:
- sodium intake of 1500-2000 mg sodium / day (about 3/4 – 1 teaspoon)
- potassium intake of 3-5 grams / day (a banana is about 25% RDA, a sweet potato about 35% RDA. Check out this chart for potassium levels in foods)
- magnesium intake of 300-400 mg / day (best bet is 2 servings of dark leafy greens. Check out this chart for magnesium levels in foods)
Possibility 2: Body says, “You’re dehydrated.“
More Signs: If your urine isn’t clear before heading into your workout, or you haven’t peed for a few hours as you head to bed, you are going to be at increased risk of cramping.
The problem: While dehydration cramps can occur in any muscle, they typically strike in the lower body – toes, calves, quads, and hamstrings. If you get a cramp, it’s best to stop exercise immediately, massage it or stretch it out, and drink 8-10 ounces of water.
The Fix: Aim to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of liquid each day, plus an additional 16 ounces per hour of activity, especially when it’s hot.
Option 3: “Your muscles are tight.“
The Signs: You can’t touch your toes. You can’t touch touch left to right fingers behind your back. You can’t extend elbows with interlaced hands behind back. You can’t extend hips with toes and hands on floor facing forward.
The Reason: Tight muscles have poorer blood supply, and therefore get less hydrated, have less electrolyte supply for contraction, and are cleansed of toxins less effectively, further disrupting fluid and electrolyte balance.
The Fix: Stretch the each area that is cramping for at least 1 minute every day, working slowly to increase range of motion of the surrounding joints.
Possibly 4: Body says, “Your circulation is poor. ”
More Signs: If your ankles are swollen, your wounds heal slowly, feet swell across the day, or you have vericose veins in your legs.
The Reason: The heart needs to create enough pressure to circulate the blood and nutrients carried in the blood through the body. Going down is easy. Going up against gravity requires a strong heart and strong veins to create sufficient pressure throughout the length of the blood vessels.
The Fix: Add full body circuit training to your exercise routine. This will give you cardio vascular system the benefit of strength and endurance, while working the entire system of blood vessels and muscles. Improved circulation is just one of the countless benefits you can expect to experience from this!
If you are cramping, you are likely suffering from a combination of the above possibilities. Progress in 1 can relieve the cramps, but don’t stop there! Progress in all will bring not only make you cramp free but help you feel your best!
Larah Kornfeind, MA, CPT, co-owner of Lift and Live Fitness, Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist with her Masters in Education and BA in Biology has utilized diet and exercise to help over hundred of others and herself to overcome severe digestive issues post stomach surgery at 18 years old, depression and anxiety in early 20’s, PCOS diagnosed at 23, pre-diabetes at 31, nail biting (since I was a little kid, I stopped when I was 31 as a nice side effect to correcting nutritional deficits), and to create two beautiful boys (currently ages 1 and 3) and nurse each of them until 11+ months of age.