Why do your muscles cramp and what to do about it?

It can be extremely frustrating to get halfway through a workout and your muscles begin to seize, leaving you unable to effectively finish your training. Belinda Reynolds, IsoWhey Sports nutritionist and dietitian gives insight into why these painful spasms occur far beyond being dehydrated and what you can do to prevent and recover faster when they do.

WHY DO OUR MUSCLES CRAMP?

There are various factors that contribute to muscle cramping and spasms, but one of the most common causes are said to be due to the intense physical activity and/or depletion of key electrolytes (e.g. Magnesium and sodium), both which are commonly associated with physical activity. Our bodies use electrolytes on a daily basis for basic movement and function, but through exercise and sweat these electrolytes are lost at an accelerated rate, causing the muscles to cramp.

KEY MINERALS ARE IMPORTANT FOR OPTIMAL MUSCLE RECOVERY

If your muscle cramps are caused by a lack of certain vitamins and minerals then dietary supplements may be helpful to you. Magnesium if one of the key minerals known to be depleted through sweat when we engage in physical activity and exercise. Magnesium is known for the role it plays as a muscle relaxant whilst also playing a supporting role in muscle recovery, which makes it a vital element in the prevention of muscle cramps and fatigue. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR FASTER RECOVERY 

  1. MAGNESIUM

Magnesium is involved in normal muscle relaxation, meaning it can reduce cramps and spasms, while it also plays a supporting role in muscle protein synthesis (promotion muscle recovery). Magnesium is involved in the break-down of inflammatory chemicals associated with pain, meaning that it may assist in minimising post-exercise muscle pain.
The best way to replenish depleted magnesium levels is to increase intake. Eating more magnesium-rich foods such as raw nuts and seeds, spinach, legumes and bananas should be considered when aiming to increase magnesium intake. A dietary supplement can also be useful in the quick restoration of magnesium levels if symptoms of fatigue and muscle tiredness are still being experienced on a healthy, magnesium-rich diet.  

  1. NITRATE-RICH INGREDIENTS 

Beetroot is known for its nitrate content which, when converted to nitric acid within the body, is involved in the blood vessel dilation. What this means is that when the blood vessels are relaxed, blood supply, oxygen and energy flow through the body is increased. The enhanced circulation aids optimal heart and muscle function as well as supporting with recovery, as increased oxygen delivery to our muscles has been shown to improve recovery and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.

Try including beetroot in your morning smoothie, as they’re also high in important vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and B6, folate, manganese, betaine and potassium.

  1. TART CHERRY

Tart cherry provides a range of benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support due to its high concentration of anthocyanins and flavonoids (two potent antioxidants). These natural substances work to suppress inflammation chemicals in the body, which in turn reduce muscle inflammation and pain post-exercise. Look for tart cherry in your post-workout formula to reap the benefits of this recovery ingredient.

  1. REST & STRETCHING 

Being active is a great way to avoid muscles from cramping as people who are in good physical shape maintain more muscle mass, usually less inflammation, and tend to be more flexible. Make sure that you do proper warm up and cool downs before and after exercise, and make sure that you’re stretching your major muscle groups.

By Belinda Reynolds, IsoWhey Sports nutritionist and dietitian