How to Prevent Muscle
Cramps from Exercise

Client Question: I get muscle cramps occasionally—they are really painful and really put a damper in my workout. What causes muscle cramps, and what can I do to prevent them?




Gina’s Answer: At some point, most exercisers experience muscle cramps during strenuous workouts. Runners usually experience these in the feet or the calf muscles, and cyclists in the quadriceps. Cramps may come during exercise, afterward, or they may hit at random.

• Most cramps are due to overuse--exercising farther or faster than in the recent past, or continuing to push yourself at your limit, especially in warm weather. Build up to harder workouts slowly and slow down if you feel overexerted to help prevent cramps. For example, if you are new to running, try alternating walking and running rather than just running all out right away. Make sure to warm up for at least 5-10 minutes before vigorous activity.

• Stay well hydrated especially before and after your workout, and consume a varied and healthy diet of whole foods to replenish electrolytes. As long as your blood pressure is not too high, extra sodium can help as well. You may wish to supplement with NuSalt or another salt substitute that contains potassium, and also 300-1000 mg of magnesium per day. You may also benefit from a calcium supplement if your diet doesn’t include enough calcium. The electrolytes will help with fatigue from hard workouts, too.

• Keep in mind that if you are dieting, especially with lower carbohydrate diets, you are more susceptible to muscle cramping. Low carb and low calorie diets tend to deplete fluids and throw off electrolyte balance. The best prevention is to consume as many fruits and vegetables as possible, ensure adequate hydration, and avoid caffeine and other diuretics.

• Many medications, especially those designed to lower cholesterol, have muscle cramps as one of their known side effects. If cramps are a big problem for you, ask your doctor about alternate medicines.

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